News Article

Worst-ever job interviews: 'We had to crawl and moo'

Posted 8th May 2024 • Written by Mitchell Labiak on BBC •

Lae arrived on time for her job interview at a lawyer's office in Bristol.

But after 20 minutes, it had been cancelled and she was asked to come back the next day.

She left upset, only to receive a message later saying the "cancellation" had actually been a test, which she had failed.

She did not get the job.

She says the experience was “totally bizarre” and that it spurred her to start her own business, where she makes sure to stick to a much more straightforward hiring style.

Lae is not alone. According to recruitment agency Hays, over half of people have had a negative experience during the interview process for a new job.

The BBC has heard stories from dozens of people who went through odd, offensive, and off-putting interviews.

They got in touch following the news that John Lewis is changing its recruitment process by allowing applicants to see interview questions in advance, in an attempt to make the process fairer.

So what can bad interviews teach us? And what can interviewees and interviewers do to make the experience less questionable?

Like Lae, Aixin Fu also had a bizarre experience. She applied for a student ambassador job for minimum wage at a university.

During a group interview, everyone was asked to crawl around on their hands and knees and “moo like a cow”.

“We did that for about three to four minutes,” she recalls.

"At the time, I was quite annoyed. It was highly inappropriate.

"But there was a bit of peer pressure because everyone else was doing it."

The interviewer said they were trying to see if the candidates were "fun", though Ms Fu suspects that "maybe someone just had a bit of a power trip".

‘So how many years do you think you've got left?’

Julie from Missouri in the US says she learnt that interviewers can sometimes be “really isolated” from what it’s like to be an interviewee.

This was her takeaway from a video interview she did in 2022 to be a part-time copywriter.

At first, she felt it was going well. “I was ticking all the boxes,” she says.

But towards the end, the interviewer asked: “So how many years do you think you've got left in you?”

“I’m in my early 60s,” Julie says. “I’m not going to retire for quite a while.”

Ageism is not the only prejudice people may experience during interviews.

Pearl Kasirye, a content marketing manager, says she was asked about her heritage during a second interview for a partially remote PR role at a fashion brand in Milan.

Ms Kasirye lives in London and left Uganda to live and study in Europe as a child.

She says the employer was insistent on paying her a Ugandan wage rather than a London wage for the remote work because of her background.

She chose to withdraw her application.

“Where you’re from, you have no control over,” she says, adding that she has interviewed people herself since and is “so much more mindful” about her questions.

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