While most people interview in a prospective employer’s office or meeting room, people who work in sales or home-based businesses are just as likely to interview at Starbucks.
The Interview for Someone Else’s Job
I once had a peculiar interview at a coffee shop, but for someone else’s job. After offering to be a reference for a friend who was applying for a security clearance, a background investigator called me and said that we needed to meet in person to complete the reference check. This made me nervous, so I decided we would meet in the safety of my local coffee hangout.
The investigator turned out to be friendly, but the interview itself was a little stressful. For a half-hour, he peppered me with brain-racking questions, such as, “Where did your friend go for her honeymoon 15 years ago?” “Does she know any foreign nationals?” and, “When did she live in Portland, and for how long?”
I’m ashamed to admit that when he asked me the names of my friend’s children, I temporarily blanked on the younger one’s (friend, please forgive me).
The Interview in a Sports Bar during Happy Hour
I once had a strange job interview for a pharmaceutical sales position in a hotel sports bar during happy hour. The hiring manager, who was flying in from the East Coast that morning, asked me to meet him at the bar at 4:00 pm so he could eat and interview me at the same time.
Little did he realize that happy hour started at 4:00 pm, along with Monday Night Football. The empty bar suddenly filled with weary, thirsty business travelers eager for libations and fun. We spent the next hour shouting at each other over the noise and cheering, barely able to hear each other, and I was sorely tempted to order a cocktail.
The Cross-Country, 45-Minute Interview
Once I took a six-hour flight to Philadelphia for a 45-minute interview at a pharmaceutical sales “hiring event.” When a pharmaceutical company launches a new product, they may hire an entire national salesforce at once by herding hundreds of reps to one location and interviewing them over the course of a few days.
I spent a week preparing intensely for the interview, which was to begin at 9:00 am and last until 3:00 pm. When I arrived at the interview room, I was surprised to see two dozen reps milling around. We chitchatted nervously with each other, unsure about what to expect.
At 9:15 am, the human resources director gave a presentation about the company then explained that we should wait until we were called for our interviews.
At 10:00 am, an assistant led me upstairs to the interview room, where two managers (neither of whom would be my supervisor) mechanically read questions from a preplanned list and showed little interest in my answers. I realized that they had been recruited to screen other managers’ candidates and that they were annoyed by the assignment.
Less than an hour later, the interview ended, and the managers instructed me to return to the main interview room to wait to see whether I would be invited to interview with the sales director.
Back downstairs, the reps ate cookies and drank coffee, surreptitiously gossiping about this mysterious 45-minute interview process. We had all experienced bored interviewers asking the same perfunctory interview questions.
Around noon, the assistant took me aside and whispered that my interview was complete and I could leave. Did I really fly across the country for a 45-minute screening interview? I decided to cut my losses and treat myself to some delicious Afghan food before I headed home.
The Dallas Cattle-Call Interview
Not long after the Philadelphia incident, I went to another pharmaceutical hiring event at my now-favorite business hotel at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. (Any pharmaceutical sales rep will tell you that she’s been to Dallas a handful of times for interviews and sales meetings but has never seen any part of the city except the airport and hotels.)
The interview kicked off in an enormous banquet hall, where more than 500 sales reps were scooping up scrambled eggs and oatmeal from the breakfast buffets, awaiting the introductory speech by HR.
As soon as I grabbed my coffee, I bumped into a colleague who worked in the territory adjacent to mine. We laughed and wondered how many of our colleagues were at the interview.
By the end of the day, I met a half-dozen reps from my company. It turned out that the hiring company attempted to poach most of our salesforce, because its new product would compete with the one we were already selling.
To this day, I wonder if my manager was suspicious about why a few of her employees asked for the same day off.
What Have I Learned from Peculiar Interviews?
What I’ve learned is that you have to make lemonade out of lemons, because the process of finding a job is full of lemons. If you had a disastrous interview, rather than letting it get you down, think about what you learned and how it can benefit you in the next interview.
I also discovered that you need to be flexible and go with the flow, because even a “normal” office interview can take unexpected twists and turns. Being able to think on your feet and connect quickly with diverse personalities, for example, will make you an ace interviewee.
Most important, have a sense of humor. It will keep your spirits up throughout your job search and get you through a tough interview.
What was the strangest job interview you’ve had?