Worst-ever interviews: ‘They told us to crawl and moo’

Image source, Getty Images

  • Author, Mitchell Labiak
  • Role, Business journalist, BBC News

Lae arrived on time for her job interview at a law firm in Bristol.

But after 20 minutes, it was canceled and he was asked to come back the next day.

She left upset, only to receive a message telling her that the “cancellation” was actually a test she had failed. She didn’t get the job.

She says the experience was “totally bizarre” and it inspired her to start her own business, where she makes sure to stick to a much simpler style of recruiting.

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

The BBC has heard the stories of dozens of people who were given strange, offensive and off-putting interviews.

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

Legend, Aixin Fu says she felt peer pressure to take part in unusual task during group interview

Like Lae, Aixin Fu also had a bizarre experience applying for a minimum wage student ambassador position at a university.

During a group interview, everyone was asked to get on all fours and “moo like a cow.”

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

“At the time I was quite upset. It was completely inappropriate.

“But there was a bit of peer pressure because everyone was doing it.”

The interviewer said they were trying to see if the contestants were “fun”, although Ms Fu suspected “maybe someone just had a little power surge”.

“I won’t retire for a while.”

Julie, from Missouri in the US, says she has learned that interviewers can sometimes be “really insulated” from what it means to be an interviewee.

That’s what she took away from a video interview she did in 2022 to become a part-time editor.

At first, she felt like things were going well. “I ticked all the boxes,” she says.

But near the end, the interviewer asked, “So how many years do you think you have left?” »

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

Ageism isn’t the only bias people can experience in interviews.

Content marketing manager Pearl Kasirye 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 when she was a child.

She says the employer insisted on paying her a Ugandan salary rather than a London salary for remote working because of her background.

She chose to withdraw her candidacy.

“You have no control where you come from,” she says, adding that she has since interviewed people herself and is “much more attentive” to her questions.

Image source, Pearl Kasirye

Legend, Pearl Kasirye, who lives in London, was asked to accept a Ugandan salary

Sometimes biases can be accidental – or at least less explicit – but just as difficult for the person being interviewed.

Tom (not his real name) is a software engineer who was once asked to film answers to questions for a warehouse assistant position, rather than speaking to someone in a formal interview.

Tom describes himself as being on the autism spectrum, although it’s not something he likes to share with people.

He says he needs clear instructions during an interview and much prefers speaking face-to-face, describing the filming process as “detached – like you’re talking to a computer”.

“Economic responsibility”

Many people also told the BBC that they had faced discrimination in hiring because of their gender.

According to data from recruitment platform Applied, nearly one in five women have been asked if they have children or plan to have children during the hiring process.

One of them is Applied CEO Khyati Sundaram, who says she’s been asked the question “more times than I can count.”

It is illegal for employers to ask applicants about their marital status, whether they have children or plan to have children.

Despite this, Applied found that the problem is even worse for women applying for management positions, where two-fifths of women have been asked the same question.

Ms Sundaram says one reason for this is the perceived “economic lability” of pregnancy. “The higher the salary, the more maternity pay you have to pay to find coverage, and they don’t want the hassle.”

Legend, Khyati Sundaram is the Managing Director of recruitment platform Applied

Sometimes the hiring process is bad, not because of bias, but because, as Ms. Sundaram says: “There is no benchmark for what a good thing looks like from the interviewer’s side .”

His best advice to interviewers is to ask the same questions of every candidate and to design those questions with “marginalized groups” in mind.

As for Aixin Fu, she says her experience has taught her to be more assertive in future interviews, especially if she’s asked to do something “weird, unreasonable, or not a requirement for the position” – like mooing like a cow.

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