Strange interview experience
August 30, 2017 5:52 PM   Subscribe

I recently came back from an interview for an internship where the interviewer seemed a bit condescending. I think he was joking and trying to make me more comfortable but it just made me feel strange. However, I wonder if some of this is because of how responded to my phone interview and because of how naive and inexperienced I seem.

I wonder how common it is for interviewers to respond in this manner. They both came in and I was told that the interview was very informal. He was very sarcastic and caught me off with guard with several comments. I think he was joking but either way I didn't know how to respond.

"Do you want this internship or are you just here for the money?"

"We know that college students have to deal with their classes and maturity issues, we just want to make sure you don't come over hung over"

(about a past internship I had) "did you actually support the organization or were you just there"

He said that he knew I was nervous and seemed kind of quiet so then he started to ask me more personal questions like my hobbies and what kind of restaurants I like. He said he wanted to see if I had personality.

I am very shy and awful with interviews so his demeanor made things worse for me. I was very short with my answers and I didn't know how to react. His questions made me feel a bit insecure. I really don't understand what happened. Maybe we have different senses of humor. I'm pretty sure I'm not getting the job.

What can I do to improve my interview skills? How do I respond to these situations? How can I stop taking it so personally?
posted by sheepishchiffon to Work & Money (27 answers total)
You're overthinking this. That was incredibly condescending and patronizing, not to mention unprofessional, under any circumstances. Stay far, far away from this organization.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:57 PM on August 30, 2017 [51 favorites]

He sounds like an idiot. You interpreted this correctly.
posted by fshgrl at 5:58 PM on August 30, 2017 [37 favorites]

Go to Ask A Manager and search her site for information on interviews; there's lots of great stuff there about all sorts of work topics. She would tell you that the interviewer handled this badly.
posted by purplesludge at 6:03 PM on August 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

An addendum, since it sounds like you're new to your industry and the corporate world in general: take this experience as a lesson that just because someone is older and more experienced than you, doesn't mean that they're not a) a moron, b) rude, or c) both. You will continue to meet people who are this inexplicably boorish throughout your career, and it's important not to fake yourself out into thinking that their behavior is OK just because they're higher up the ladder than you. You meet incompetent, obnoxious, condescending assholes everywhere you go, at every level, everywhere. They will hopefully be outnumbered by the folks who at least have some semblence of a notion of how to do their job in a professional way, but never assume that just because someone has a particular role (such as hiring manager) that they are any good at it at all.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:07 PM on August 30, 2017 [38 favorites]

Maybe he was a jerk--it's a good hypothesis--or maybe he was inexperienced or socially awkward or didn't sleep the night before or whatever. In any case, it wasn't your fault, and kind of an important thing about job interviews is you typically won't hear the inside scoop that would reveal the actual factors involved. They'll all always seem at least a little random from the POV of most applicants, and second-guessing that randomness is totally not worth it. Saving someone else from their own faux pas is an amazing skill worth developing from a diplomacy and kindness point of view, though, and I guess the way I think about it is to assume the other person has good intentions that might be drawn out from a poorly framed question or comment, allowing me to move along and address that instead of the weird, annoying, but not illegal thing they said. I mean, if this was the person you'd have reported to, I suspect you dodged a bullet. But if you're in a series of interviews, you sometimes have to get past people who won't really be a problem on the job.
posted by Wobbuffet at 6:20 PM on August 30, 2017

It sounds like he likes having a bit of power over his interviewees and was enjoying himself at your expense. In situations like interviews, where we are on our best behavior and want to impress, we try to interpret everything in a positive way. I know I do, at least. I think you wanted to believe that he was genuinely being friendly and joking around with you, but you knew he wasn't, so you felt uncomfortable. Sorry he was such a jerk to you.

(If you are a woman, it wouldn't surprise me to find out there's a bit of sexism involved here, too)
posted by blackzinfandel at 6:23 PM on August 30, 2017 [9 favorites]

With the exception of recruiters, who really ought to know better (but often come and go quickly from the profession and may as a result not be all that trained) folks conducting hiring interviews don't get trained how to do it, and interviewing constitutes a tiny fraction of the work they do. Even a "hiring manager" in most cases is just the person to whom the role will report; they have some other skill set that makes them the manager of a team, but it may have nothing to do with knowing how to interview.

What I'm saying is that yeah, those were inappropriate remarks, but the guy could just be awkward. Or maybe he was rude on purpose - that happens - but it's rarer. Don't ascribe to malice what could be explained by ineptitude. (But do by all means note that this guy doesn't know how to behave: it should affect whether you'd want him as your boss.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:23 PM on August 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

I can't tell from the excerpts you've provided, because as you know a lot of communication takes place beyond just the words that were said. It's certainly possible that they were being very rude, but it's also possible they were just being very informal. We weren't in that room, so we can't tell you what happened.

As you do more of these you'll get more comfortable, and you'll understand what is normal--and that for certain things, there is no "normal".

I don't think the lesson to learn here is that you're perfect just as you are. That is, I'm sure you did nothing wrong. But everyone starts from somewhere, and you'll get more and more experienced as you... get more experienced. You'll learn how to be casual but not too casual, eager but not too eager, etc. Don't worry about this one, and keep interviewing.

And honestly, the attitude your interviewers had about interns... didn't come from nowhere. Like, the hung over comment is because they've had interns come in hung over and useless. The money comment is because they've had interns that clearly had no actual interest in the internship (I'm assuming this is an unpaid internship, or minimal stipend, which makes the money bit a clear joke to my ears).

From my personal experience, interns are actually worse than useless. The intern gets experience, but the company doesn't actually get much value in return, because you have no skills. The people who are put in charge of you are given the additional work of managing you, but you're almost certainly not making their lives any better. This is not an excuse to treat you unprofessionally, and this is how you tell good companies from bad. But like I said... the attitude doesn't come from nowhere. You are the very bottom rung. I advise you not to take it personally.
posted by danny the boy at 6:40 PM on August 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

Just because you're the bottom rung doesn't mean people can treat you like shit. Well they can, actually, but it doesn't make it OK. The professional thing to do is to assume that you're approaching the position in good faith. I would be outraged if I showed up at a job interview and someone asked me if I actually gave a shit about doing my job.

Even when I was a teenager interviewing for a position as seasonal help at a garden nursery (basically a warm body tasked with doing whatever I was told, generally whatever nobody else felt like doing) the person in charge of the interview (one of the owners) spoke to me respectfully, as one worker to another (albeit with very different levels of power and status). Nobody asked me "are you planning to show up hungover and useless?" because what the fuck kind of question is that? If I'd shown up hungover and useless then I'd get disciplined and eventually fired, but at the interview stage the assumption was that I wanted the job and I was there to work.

They asked me questions like "We work 50-hour weeks here; you'll get time and a half for the last 10 of course, but is that something you're OK with?" not "Are you a useless person who has no interest in doing the job?" or "At your last job, did you just stand around doing nothing while everybody else worked?" or "Are you mature enough to have a job, or are you basically a big baby who's no good for anything?" or "Do you actually want this job or did you just somehow wander in here by accident?"

For what it's worth (and to help answer part of the last bit of your question) if you really need the job and you get a stupid-ass question like one of the ones above, the only thing to do is to put your serious face on for a moment, look the interviewer squarely in the eye, and say "I absolutely do want this job, and if hired I'll do everything I can to perform to the very best of my abilities." Which, I mean, is really the only possible answer. You shouldn't have to actually say it, but that's what the right answer is.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:00 PM on August 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

It's not you, it's him. Sounds like he has had a bad intern in the past (maybe several) and is jerkishly projecting that onto you. That kind of attitude is hard to shake and can be toxic in a manager. Whether that's intentional or "just who he is," it's not a good sign.

That said, it's hard to respond in the moment. The few times I've encountered someone like this, I try to answer the question behind the question. So for the drunk/hungover accusation, the hidden question is "are you reliable?" And you can say, I've had an excellent school/previous internship attendance record, or whatever. Similarly, for the question about the previous internship, that's an opening for you to talk about the projects you worked on, and special initiatives you started, etc. The trick is always to keep the focus on what skills you can bring to the company.
posted by basalganglia at 7:03 PM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't really like the idea that interns are less than useless. I've actually seen some start up companies that will take the unpaid interns creative work, put it into their product, and not credit them at all. The idea that interns are useless makes companies feel like its okay to take advantage of them.
posted by sheepishchiffon at 7:08 PM on August 30, 2017 [9 favorites]

I used to work at a company that used interns. We treated them with the utmost respect.

Why would you want to work for a company where a recruiter treats you with less than that? You are a skilled worker, and they should treat you as such.

To ask you such personal questions is beyond the pale. It smacks of not only un-professionalism, but sexism. You should report this person, and never think to work for this company, who employs someone who even asks you these questions.

Go elsewhere in your search, whether it's for an internship or a start-up position. This person is a dog.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:25 PM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

This was extremely unprofessional behavior and if you were to take this internship, I shudder to think of how much more unprofessional and abusive this person would be.
posted by pazazygeek at 7:28 PM on August 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

Funny, I read this as a whole badass schtick, trying too hard to be cool and down with the kids, which is less rude and more pathetic, but in any event, bullet dodged.
posted by kapers at 7:29 PM on August 30, 2017 [11 favorites]

It's hard to judge the appropriateness of those phrases without actual being-in-the-room context. It's poor form, at the least.

But! Dealing with interviews like that is a skill, it comes from doing interviews. Keep interviewing. And just keep in mind, it's not ever actually that serious. The more you interview, the less nervous you will get. Literally the worst thing that can happen is you don't get the job. And you really, honestly, seriously don't want to work somewhere that doesn't want to hire you. It took me a long time and a lot of hit or miss jobs and interviews to understand that!
posted by so fucking future at 7:36 PM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have had some incredibly weird interviews over the years so my tolerance is really high, and I would walk right out if someone talked to me like that. That is not okay and you were not the problem. (And I agree with you about interns. Some are useless but plenty of them are hardworking and awesome, and frankly IMO the rate is about the same as among permanent employees.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:47 PM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Are you practicing interview skills with your career center, or somewhere else that can provide those services? This would help you rehearse some smooth answer to common questions, get experience in a low stakes setting, and as an added bonus reinforce what a normal professional interview looks like! If you don't have access to that, use a friend/relative/cat/pet rock as mock interviewer asking questions from the internet.

Story time! The worst interview I ever had was for a part time job where the guy had me in the back seat of his car in a convenience store parking lot while he belittled my listening comprehension. I snatched my resume and bailed out of the car mid-interview.

Maybe we could give this gentleman the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he had a bad experience with young workers, or women, or foreigners. Maybe he had a bad childhood. Maybe he didn't have a good enough grasp of well, any "soft skills" at all.

No: I don't care what made him terrible. The dude was terrible, and I'm glad I bailed, and I wish I'd done it sooner. Always listen to that voice that says "that's condescending and rude, this isn't right." Never take a job from a person that gives you a bad gut feeling unless you absolutely have to. Maybe you have trouble trusting that gut because you have less experience: that's when you ask multiple people whose judgment you really trust. But err on the side of your gut.
posted by sacchan at 8:42 PM on August 30, 2017

He thought he was being funny. I also think he was trying to ask actual questions, but in a weird manner.

"Do you want this internship or are you just here for the money?" = "Why do you want this internship?"

"We know that college students have to deal with their classes and maturity issues, we just want to make sure you don't come over hung over" = "Are you a responsible, professional person?"

(about a past internship I had) "did you actually support the organization or were you just there" = "What drew you to your last internship and what did you get out of it?"

I think it's fair to have found this awkward. And if you aren't comfortable or experienced with being interviewed, plus being nervous, I can imagine you didn't know how to respond. Laughing it off and then answering the actual questions I've laid out would've been the best recourse. In fact, that is the rule of interviewing across the board, I think: Always pivot to something you feel confident in discussing and highlights positive information you want the interviewer to know, especially when you don't have a great response for whatever they just asked. You should do this whether the interviewer is making dumb sarcastic jokes or not.

So, this guy was a bad interviewer but you shouldn't take it personally. After all, this guy doesn't know you -- that's the whole point of interviews. He may have very well had bad experiences with irresponsible interns, but all you had to do was show him you're not like his past experiences.

Don't worry about it. You'll get more comfortable in navigating curveballs in interviews the more you do them and practice.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:10 PM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Do you want this internship or are you just here for the money?"

Was this an unpaid internship? if so, that's a joke on himself, not you. or rather, on his company, which he was trying to set himself apart from, to make you like him, and to make you see that he understands how much your position sucks.

Some people think joking will make you less nervous, and they are idiots, but other people are nervous themselves and can't make themselves stop trying to fix the awkwardness by joking more, and you can feel sorry for them if it helps. I would not have believed before I'd done it myself how nervous interviewers can get. He might feel like an idiot now for fucking up the tone of the interview, you'd never know. All you can really do in these situations is give a weak smile or a polite fake laugh and answer whatever real question is in there.

however, if somebody told me they wanted "personality," I'd say that wasn't listed among the job requirements, but I can provide it for an extra 10K per year above the base salary.

and then I wouldn't laugh.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:14 PM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Never forget that you are also interviewing the company, as they interview you. This can be handy because if you remember that you're also evaluating them (even if you don't outwardly get to ask questions, though how fun would it be if you did? "Would I have to work with him (point to rude guy) if I get hired?"), you may feel less on the defensive.

Anyhow, if he thought he was being funny: he was wrong, and also it wasn't the place for it. If he wanted to show you how informal things were: that's the kind of informal you probably don't want.
posted by destructive cactus at 11:02 PM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Some people relish the chance to appear clever or witty. They're more interested in showing off their own personality than accomplishing the task at hand. (It's more common than you'd think; I think I'm a pretty nice guy, but I find myself doing it all the time.) This guy was more interested in making sure you knew he was Not Like Everyone Else than in actually evaluating your qualifications.

Had I been in this situation, I would answer the questions as sarcastically as he asked them. "Totally here for the money." "I don't remember what I did at my last internship because I was asleep all the time." "I promise I won't come in hung over, but I may drink on the job." Note that these responses aren't actually funny. They sound pretty stupid - the point is to show him how stupid the questions were. But ultimately, it doesn't matter how you answer, because, as others have said, you shouldn't be taking this job. They're looking for persobality fit? So are you, and this isn't.

Going forward, just google "common interview questions", and then write out a paragraph or two for each one. Then have a friend or two (bonus points if you can have someone in HR do this) look over them to make sure you're answering them well. Then, after you've got good answers, practice saying them. Then, just interview a lot.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:35 AM on August 31, 2017

Hard to tell whether his intention was to be condescending or funny, but the failure mode of "clever" is still "asshole", and that's why he should have been more careful in his questions. It also looks like his definition of personality is either sarcastic or liar, and that may bite him later. I like to think that in that situation I would say something like "Wow, why would you say that? I've had no attendance issues in the past and have treated my prior jobs with the professionalism they deserve." I would also assume at that point that I wasn't getting the job, but as some folks upthread said, the interview goes both ways and I would not want to work for this person.

For getting more comfortable, yeah, look at lists of common interview questions. When I didn't have a lot of work experience I particularly struggled with behavioral interview questions, i.e. "tell me about a time that you failed at something." Thinking through them beforehand, spending some time thinking about my successes and failures and how to tell them like a story, helped me feel a lot more confident.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:13 AM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

It is sadly common to be inappropriately "informal" and condescending about internships. This is because a lot of people do not, in fact, respect interns or the concept of internships.

Things you can do to improve your interviewing for next time? Uh, remind yourself that you deserve to be treated more professionally than this, and that you probably dodged a bullet. Practice your polite "take no shit" face and some polite responses to shut down shitty sarcastic questions. Honestly, your "short" answers were probably totally fine in content, you just may need to deliver them with more confidence. (I mean, WTF kind of answer is there to "do you want this internship or are you just here for the money?" Uh, both? Do you want to work here for free, Mr. Interviewer?)
posted by desuetude at 7:20 AM on August 31, 2017

I can tell you as a woman with 25 years of work experience, if I was co-interviewing someone and my colleague acted like this I would take them out of the room and tell them to stop it if I was able, and if I was not I would send a documentation email to someone about him.

His behavior was bullshit, and it doesn't matter why. Do not work for this company, it will suck.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:02 AM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

If the job was at a comedy club those questions would be completely reasonable. Anywhere else, no. However, it probably was a good interview experience for you. The biggest part of being interviewed is being able to think quickly on your feet. It doesn't matter if you know most of the questions, no interviewers like answers that are too canned. Practice more and become more comfortable in crafting real answers, even to inappropriate questions.

I am starting to like behavioral interview questions as opposed to old-style questions like "Tell us about your strengths". I think the one question about being "here for the money" is interesting because it should bring our your motivation for taking the job and show what you expect to get out of the internship. Obviously somebody answering they just want the money will not get the job. Simply saying you want the internship without saying why will be a crappy answer too.
posted by JJ86 at 12:50 PM on August 31, 2017

If you don't get this internship, then you probably dodged a bullet. Any company where that kind of unprofessional interview etiquette is tolerated is probably hot garbage.

STORY TIME. A few years ago, I interviewed for an assistant job at a small company. I got a weird vibe off the place the second I walked in, but I chalked it up to nerves and inexperience.

First, my interviewer was running late, so someone else came out to chat with me/give me an informal mini-interview. The conversation was going fine until suddenly IT WASN'T. I have no idea what I could have said to cause such a sudden shift from business-casual-banter to total-freeze in a matter of seconds, but I've never encountered anything like it before.

Second, when the guy DID show up, he asked me a lot of questions that sound very similar to what you describe here: deliberately combative, clearly designed to make you uncomfortable in some misguided attempt to see how you respond under pressure, making assumptions about your motivations, etc.

He mentioned that his rationale for asking these kinds of questions is that he wanted an assistant who would be able to give it to him straight, and flat out asked me if I'd be willing to tell him when he was being an asshole. I gave him a pointed "Sure" in response, but at this point, I'd long since checked out of the interview and was sticking to single syllable answers, because I was DEAD sure I didn't want this job at this point.

And sure enough, I did not get the job. HOWEVER, at the job I eventually DID get, I found out one of my new coworkers used to work at that place for a short time. She confirmed that yes, the place was a nightmare and, fun fact, the guy I was interviewing with actually studied and used Israeli interrogation techniques during interviews. Not that I felt even a little bit bummed for not getting the job, but learning that information really did make me feel vindicated that no, it wasn't me who screwed up the interview.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:03 AM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just heard back from them and I definitely didn't get the job just as I anticipated. Bullet dodged.
posted by sheepishchiffon at 5:55 PM on September 6, 2017

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