Smile Politely

To Kill An Interview

Interviewing can be one of the most stressful experiences in life, depending on the desirability of the job. The anticipation of an interview can be intense: you might not sleep the night before, you might not be able to eat all day and chances are you might say something in the interview that you will regret.

I think everyone has gone through this at some time or another. If you haven’t, you will. Eventually you might even land a job that requires you to interview, and then you will know what it’s like to be me. So far this year, I have interviewed over 150 people, and most of the interviews are stereotypically boring. However, now and again I get the opportunity to interview some pretty “special people”.

( Ed. note: Thomas will have more interesting HR stories to tell in future editions of this regular column. )

For instance, last month I interviewed a girl who disclosed to me the reason for the misdemeanor on her application. Her plausible explanation didn’t cause me an alarm. What did unease me was the reaction she gave me when I told her that she would have to take a drug test. She became defensive and disheveled. Her agitation built as she explained how she had to make a weekly donation at the probation office. She cried to me, “It’s so degrading. They make me pee in a cup in front of them and I’ve never done drugs. I can’t believe they make me do that.There is no way I would do drugs when I have a baby.” She took a deep breath and then asked me in all seriousness, “I’m not going to have to pee in front of you, am I?” My first reaction was to laugh. My second reaction, being the sarcastic person that I am, was to grab the coffee cup by my computer, slide it across to the table towards her, snap my fingers and then say, “Let’s do this.” Since I value my job, and since I have no desire to see someone pee in front of me, I just assured her that the staff at Occupational Medicine would be better equipped to handle her urine.

Perhaps one of the most awkward interview moments that I had took place last fall. I traveled to Danville, Ill., to do a series of interviews in an old doctor’s office. The first two interviews were standard fare, but the third left me wanting to get drunk.

She was a middle-aged woman, rather stocky, with a short perm and a sweet demeanor. I didn’t want to press her too hard to start, so I asked her simple questions to warm up. “What would you say your weakness is?” I asked. “Well, I tend to get emotional,” she answered. I turned cautious, thinking to myself, “Do I really want an emotional wreck to work with sick people?” I proceeded regardless, following up with this question, “Well, what are two or three of your strengths?”

She didn’t say a word. She started to shake and her eyes welled up with tears. They started streaming down her face and then she sobbed, “I’m a Christian.” She held her hand to her face and started to convulse. She could barely draw a breath, which worried me greatly.

As for me, my eyes were wide open with shock. Here I was, stuck in a little office with no outs, because she was blocking the only path to the door. I respect anyone’s spiritual beliefs, but I could barely control myself from laughing.

I quickly diverted my attention to a box of Kleenex, offering her one. Her hand shook as she reached for it and then she apologized (mind you, still sobbing), “I’m so sorry, but every time I think about Jesus, I get like this.” I wanted to say, “I would never sit next to you in church then,” but I instead just sat taciturn. Her crying went on for two more minutes. I asked her if she needed to leave the office. She shook her head no. I asked her if she wanted me to give her a moment alone. I begged for her to answer yes, but she shook her head no. We finally got back to the interview after five agonizing minutes of her wailing.

Needless to say, she didn’t get the job.

I could go on and on about crazy stories that I have heard in interviews. I could even tell you about some crazy smells that I have also encountered from my candidates, but those should be saved for another day.

Please just know that even though you might feel nervous when you have an interview, there is a good chance that the interviewer is also nervous, or perhaps just eager to hear you say something asinine.

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