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A company I was interested in just flew me out for an interview. It was on the other side of the country so they paid for my flight and hotel. Unfortunately, the interview went disastrously. I blew every question and I could tell that they didn't like me personally.

When I got to the airport for my return flight, I was unable to get my boarding pass. The agent told me that my ticket was cancelled by the buyer for a partial refund. Despite my persistence, they assured me that there wasn't a mistake.

I called the company to tell them there was a mix-up, but they just told me they decided they would "going in a different direction". I told them I was fine that I didn't get the job, but I didn't have a flight home. They just repeated the same "going in a different direction" phrase and told me they couldn't help me. After calling back 3 or 4 times, they told me to stop harassing them.

I'm completely broke due to poor financial decisions (that's a different story), so I can't afford a last minute plane ticket. It doesn't help that this is a small airport, so ticket prices are high. So basically I've been stuck at the airport for the past 3 days. Yesterday, my credit card started being declined, so I've had to eat scraps from other customers.

Fortunately, I do have an existing job (albeit awful job) when I get home. And I finally got a friend of a friend to agree to pick me up and drive me to a Greyhound bus station in another town. So while I'm sitting in the airport waiting for him with a lot of time to think, I wanted to ask a few questions that have been spinning around my mind:

  • Seriously, what the heck? Is this normal for an employer to do?
  • A specific legal question about recourse against this employer has been asked on Law SE
  • The more I think about, the more I'm thinking I must have said something offensive to somebody in an interview. Is there any way to ask them what I said (so that I can avoid this mistake in the future)?
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jan 17 at 5:01
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    Before you comment: the case of fake CV has been brought up in previous comments, more than once. Please read existing answers and add your own if you feel that's gonna be of value; otherwise go to the chat room for more extended discussions. – Marc.2377 Jan 19 at 15:08
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    @Marc.2377 -- So what was the OP's response to "the case of fake CV has been brought up in previous comments"? If we ask, shouldn't it be addressed in the question? Ian't that the whole point of comments? – Martin F Jan 25 at 5:26
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    Did you get homes safely ??? – Marianne013 Jan 25 at 13:17
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    @MartinF The OP has not returned to this site since posting the question. Many follow up questions has been asked of the OP in the comments and most of those have been either moved to chat or deleted by admins on this site. At this time we probably shouldn't expect the OP to return to respond to any of the follow up questions. – kasperd Jan 26 at 13:11

10 Answers 10

479

Seriously, what the heck? Is this normal for an employer to do?

No, this is completely unacceptable. Sure, the interview didn't work out, but screwing the candidate because of that is just so, so bad.

Do I have any recourse against this employer?

As a legal question which is going to depend on your jurisdiction and that of the employer. You'd need to talk to an actual lawyer.

As others have commented, independent of the legal aspect, "naming and shaming" is an option. I would very rarely advocate that behaviour, but in this case I think it's worth making other candidates aware of the risk they take interviewing with this company. However:

  1. Make at least a nominal attempt to reconcile things with the company first.
  2. Stack Exchange is not the platform on which to name and shame.

The more I think about, the more I'm thinking I must have said something offensive to somebody in an interview. Is there any way to ask them what I said (so that I can avoid this mistake in the future)?

You can ask, at which point there are two possibilities:

  1. This was actually a mistake and/or more sensible heads have prevailed at the company, in which case I'd hope they'd refund your expenses and the like.
  2. They seriously meant to do this, in which case I doubt they'll answer.

I honestly cannot think of anything which would cause me to act in this way towards a candidate; there's plenty you could say which would cause me to terminate the interview on the spot and walk you out the door, but I'm not going to screw someone in a way which would reflect so negatively on the company for any future candidates.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jan 19 at 7:21
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    I agree that this isn’t the place to name and shame, but don’t think that just including the name in the question or in a comment would be naming and shaming. I think the name and location should have been in the question. – jmoreno Jan 19 at 13:32
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    I wouldn't go out of my way to cause harm to said company, but I definitely would want to know it's name and tell everyone I know not to apply to their jobs, ever. This type of action is not simply an overreaction of one person, but something very systemic to the company. It's a gigantic red flag IMO. – Nelson Jan 22 at 5:38
  • Name and shame might not have an impact in this case anyway as company which is doing these kind of acts are unlikely to feel easily ashamed – senseiwu Jan 24 at 11:40
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    @senseiwu It's not for their benefit, it's for the benefit of anyone else who might be thinking of interviewing there. – Philip Kendall Jan 24 at 11:43
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Be sure to post to GlassDoor, etc, but be absolutely sure to post only the exact truth, with nothing opinion based which could get you sued.

Do that - after you have found a lawyer; most will give a free consultation if they are fairly sure of a win, for which you probably have grounds (especially give that "had to eat scraps from other customers").

If you want to know more about the legal side of things, you can look at the cross-posted question on our Law SE.

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    With regards to your last paragraph, such a question has been asked here. – JAD Jan 17 at 7:51
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    "(especially give that "had to eat scraps from other customers")" I don't think that particular part changes anything regarding winning or losing a lawsuit. Either op is entitled to compensation or not. If op is not, it's their problem they were stranded, it doesn't suddenly become the employers. (Just to be clear, in my opinion they have grounds for a suit). – DonQuiKong Jan 17 at 9:05
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    @Mawg I'm also no lawyer, but I don't see any case for kidnapping or false imprisonment here at all. The company simply isn't restricting OP's personal movement - they're just not paying for it. – Anyon Jan 17 at 18:54
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    @Anyon I agree with you, though it seems that there is growing acceptance of the reasoning that if the only accessible personal movement requires financial means you do not have, then you don't actually have freedom of movement, and if someone knowingly causes that condition, then you don't have that freedom of movement because of that someone. I wouldn't expect this argument to win in court any time soon, but I find myself thinking that we'll be seeing things turning that way in some jurisdictions within a couple of decades. – mtraceur Jan 17 at 23:46
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    @anyon: They aren't restricting OP's personal movement (which would be criminal), but he did make a good faith reliance on the plane ticket offered to him in exchange for coming to the interview, and their cancellation of that ticket is a tort and they can be held responsible for all financial losses that directly result from their action, including not only alternative transportation but also lodging and meals while waiting for that transportation. Reimbursement for pain and suffering is a bit more of a stretch but probably worth trying for. – Ben Voigt Jan 20 at 7:49
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Seriously, what the heck? Is this normal for an employer to do?

No. As far as slimy tactics by employers go, this is pretty up there. If I were you I'd name & shame them on glassdoor and the like. If they're in any sort of public spotlight the PR from that will be disastrous. Nobody wants to interview much less work for a company with that track record.

Do I have any recourse against this employer?

Thats a question for a lawyer specializing in employment law. Try to find one that offers free consultations.

The more I think about, the more I'm thinking I must have said something offensive to somebody in an interview. Is there any way to ask them what I said (so that I can avoid this mistake in the future)?

Even if you did, I have never heard of a employer doing this, and I'm pretty sure almost nobody actually does this. If you are an employer flying people out for interviews, you CAN NOT afford the bad publicity such a stunt will give you. Imagine what happens if a company like that invites me to an interview and I read THAT on a review site? Hard pass just on precaution.

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    If I were applying for a position, the potential employer offered to fly me out, and I found this type of information on Glassdoor or another site, I'd email the recruiting manager, send him the link and politely decline with an indication that no matter how nice the town is, I've no desire to be stuck there if the interview doesn't go well. – FreeMan Jan 23 at 13:23
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Is this normal for an employer to do?

I've swapped 'horror interview' stories with other developers and managers, but I've never heard of this happening.

I must have said something offensive

Maybe, but only blame yourself for blowing the interview.
Don't blame yourself for the return plane ticket fiasco.

This is likely a single person making a big mistake.
The ones that covered for that mistake afterwards (I assume you talked to multiple people there) also seem culpable to me at this point, but IANAL1.

If you made offensive remarks during the interview I would want you not just out of my face, but also out of my town. I would abruptly (but politely) end the interview - it wouldn't occur to me to cancel your return flight.

If you totally lied about your experience, I might recommend to my company that we ask you to compensate us for the plane ticket and hotel. But I don't expect most companies ever would pursue it because of the bad PR that could come from it.


1 IANAL = I Am Not A Lawyer = I believe this is true, but it isn't a legal opinion.

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    "it wouldn't occur to me to cancel your return flight." This can't be emphasized enough. – bruglesco Jan 17 at 0:34
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    I also can't imagine the company getting anything close to full amount for canceling hours before the flight. Most airlines give you nothing for doing this. I couldn't find hard numbers on this though. – Nelson Jan 17 at 2:25
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What the company did was in extremely poor taste, so much so, that I wonder if there might be something more happening, especially since you said you bombed the interview, both technically and personally.

In your job application, were you truthful and honest?
Did you lie or seriously exaggerate about your skills, experience or history?
Was there a phone screen before the interview trip? Why did the phone screen go well enough to merit an interview then the interview went so poorly?

Basically, if you were not the job applicant you said you are: If you lied on your resume, or had someone coach you through a phone screen, and then were discovered in the interview, I think the company would have a real right to be extremely pissed off, and possible a legal right due to fraud to claw back some of their expenditures.

If you are confident everything on your end was honest and level, and you just had a really bad interview for a job that was a poor fit, then you probably have a strong legal case and the ability to create a PR and Recruiting Nightmare for the company.

PS
If you do decide to make it a Public Relations / Recruiting Situation, you might consider making it about the individuals involved as well as the Company. Companies can be faceless, nameless, bureaucratic beasts, but if you name the HR-recruiter and Hiring Manager involved, and make them responsible for their own decisions, it might be more effective. Check with a lawyer and be careful to avoid unjust defamation.

Edit After awhile, another possibility that occurred to me is that this might be an effective way for someone from the company to embezzle money:. They look for candidates who have bombed, then cancel the return ticket, routing the refund to their own account rather than the company. The company wouldn't know that the candidate was left stranded, and whoever re-routed the money would have pocketed the cost of a refundable ticket!

If you have only spoken to one person at the company so far, who kept repeating the same "other direction" line over and over, they may be the embezzler, hoping you will just go away. You need to speak to at least a second person at the company, and get an acknowledgement that the company really did cancel your ticket. Otherwise, this may be part of a much more serious crime.

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    when you fly out a candidate, all the money is gone in one atomic transaction. it's never coming back or half back. even if the candidate lies/cheats/etc – sudo rm -rf slash Jan 16 at 14:01
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    @sudorm-rfslash What do you mean? In this case the company did get some money back. "The agent told me that my ticket was cancelled by the buyer for a partial refund." – David Mulder Jan 16 at 14:08
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    I should have added "from a sane manager's perspective"... yes of course IRL you can get the money back but you should think of it as inaccessible – sudo rm -rf slash Jan 16 at 14:48
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    even if the company ended the interview believing that they had been defrauded by the candidate, there is a proper recourse through the court system to reclaim their expenses. Vigilante justice certainly is not a justifiable response. – Tom Jan 16 at 14:53
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    Note that the people at the company are people, too. They may have come to a conclusion after the OP left that they had been screwed over, and cancelled the return ticket as a knee-jerk reaction. The size of the company was not specified, nor the level of the position. I'm not arguing this is a good thing, by any means.... – RDFozz Jan 16 at 17:53
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In fact, as HR should be booking the flights, but HR would not be conducting the interview, someone has gone out of their way to cancel that flight. It may even be that the "sponsor" has been fired and had their approval rights revoked.

After all if they could not screen you out, their own bona fides are then highly suspect.

This is actually quite hard to do and would have left a wide trail. That they used refundable tickets is significant.

You bombed at the interview, was the position misrepresented or in any way "Bait and Switch"? Sometimes the copy for the job is garbage.

Otherwise I would invoice for time and expense, and then sue for liquidated damages.

OP should consult with a lawyer first, they are very good at this kind of billing.

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    There exist good reasons to use refundable tickets: candidates might cancel on short notice. – gerrit Jan 17 at 10:47
  • Was it pointed out somewhere that HR booked the flight? If so I missed that. – David Z Jan 18 at 21:55
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    @DavidZ, no but typically in large companies HR sets up the interviews. Technical interviewers would certainly have better things to do with their time than book flights and hotels. – Catsunami Jan 21 at 16:18
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    @gerrit The full refund has a window of activation. I have yet to find an airline that gives me full refund for cancelling hours before the flight. – Nelson Jan 22 at 5:51
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    @gerrit But refundable tickets are massively, massively more expensive than non-refundable ones. You'd need to have a huge proportion of your candidates cancelling for it to be worthwhile buying refundable tickets. – David Richerby Jan 24 at 17:43
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The only reasonable situation where this would be a valid reaction to, would be if you lied on your CV in an important point.

I am not mentioning a little exaggeration, not something like blowing all technical questions where you did not have as much experience as one would like, but misstating hard facts, like making up a PHD. Something like that would be fraud, and an employee would be obligated, should he become aware of such a situation to limit the damage to his employer.

Nonetheless, the behavior they showed is unprofessional - it should be clearly stated if that happens.

In all other cases, the behavior is completely unusual, unprofessional, and should be reason for consulting a lawyer.

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    I think even if (totally hypothetically, not saying this is the case) OP committed fraud by totally lying on their CV, canceling the ticket without informing OP, thus leaving OP stranded at the airport, is not a "valid reaction", and more than just unprofessional. If the company believed OP had committed fraud against them, they could have kept the ticket active, and then asked OP to pay back the travel costs. If OP refused, legal action would have been the most professional and acceptable play by the company, however, PR-wise, even that would probably not have been such a good idea. – Revetahw Jan 17 at 8:55
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    I agree with that. Even if OP blew all technical questions on a topic he claimed to be an expert in, I don't think this would justify canceling the ticket. Performance during interviews is not just about skills/ knowledge, it's also about the psychological and physical state the candidate is in for example. The only exception which would justify canceling the ticket is a "hard" lie, something which was obviously a deliberate attempt to mislead the company on a very important matter. – BigMadAndy Jan 17 at 18:27
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    Sadly, this is the only answer which matches all of the facts -- the OP stated they blew the technical questions and the interviewers didn't like them. I've interviewed candidates where I was fairly certain the candidate had stretched their experience, and things usually get very tense as the interview wore on. In one instance the misrepresentations were so obvious we wanted to know who the real person was so we could hire them. I would never suggest revoking a return flight for any other reason, but if fraud were obvious, I'd be open to it. – Julie in Austin Jan 20 at 2:35
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    Being realistic it's unlikely that they'd want to pursue a legal option of getting their money back. It would be a troublesome and potentially expensive way of recovering a relatively small amount, considering they're dealing with someone they'll never see again living (probably) a few states away or in another country, and they probably never stated honesty as a condition for paying the air fare. That's not to defend what they did of course... But it sounds more like the action of a spiteful and pissed-off boss than a HR person who saw it as a valid legal move. – colmde Jan 21 at 14:34
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    It's hard to imagine that they could have detected a false CV during an interview. I've interviewed candidates with pre-checked CV's who just did really badly - because they froze on the interview, or they just weren't that good and had softball jobs. You can't really tell a bad candidate or a candidate having a bad day from a fake candidate just by talking to them... – Tom Swirly Jan 22 at 14:24
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This is completely unacceptable. Do talk to them to see if they can make this right.

Assuming they don't, if you still want your revenge, I would suggest contacting the press - try somewhere like buzzfeed, huffington post, or the daily mail. If this story gets carried on somewhere high traffic, it will come up whenever anyone googles the company. You won't get your money back (it will not be worth the money to get legal recourse, I suspect) but you will have had your revenge.

And speaking of revenge, take the time to cool off and consider the maxim that when you go seeking revenge, first you should dig two graves.

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    This answer seems to be advocating going for "revenge", while also citing an old Chinese proverb that warns of the dangers and pitfalls of revenge? – Revetahw Jan 22 at 1:20
  • Well, there's no meaningful compensation here, because it's going to be costly to pursue. The recourse is only revenge to expose this behaviour - but revenge has its own dangers. – Marcin Jan 22 at 13:19
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    "Do talk to them to see if they can make this right." OP already tried that and was told to stop harassing them. I would also highlight that in cases like this, OP MAY be awarded their legal fees also – UKMonkey Jan 22 at 14:49
  • @UKMonkey Vanishingly unlikely in the US. – Marcin Jan 22 at 17:00
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    @Joshua Fraud is not a statute, it's a concept. Also...what's the fraud here? – Marcin Jan 23 at 2:16
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The more popular answers have suggested something along the lines of attempting to recover your losses through legal means. I would suggest that may be a bad idea, as might be something like "naming and shaming". I'll explain at the end.

I've conducted a fair number of interviews over the last 20+ years and the #1 cause of a candidate completely bombing an interview is substantial misstatements of experience, either willfully, or because the position wasn't understood. A good interviewer will try and ease any stress during an interview which might be making things go poorly, but if all of the efforts at putting a candidate at ease fail, resume-padding -- willful or accidental (not understanding the position) -- is usually the most likely cause.

I've had "bombing" candidates go two ways -- they either realize they are a complete mis-match and end the interview (or acknowledge the fact at the end), or they get defensive. In one instance, the candidate apparently told their recruiter we'd accused them of lying (we hadn't -- we discussed it among ourselves afterwards, but no one had implied that during the interview) and the recruiter contacted us. We explained how badly the interview went, and that was that.

I don't know where you are in your career, because you didn't say, but I'm going to share an observation. Quite often early career people assume they can stretch experience because they feel they are ready for an advancement. What they don't understand is how interviewers are often selected. I've been a software engineer for pushing 40 years. I've done a lot of different things, so I've been picked to interview people at 4 of my last 5 gigs. I interview people for competence in their claimed areas of experience. It usually takes me 5 minutes or less to determine if they have the experience they claim. If things are going badly, I have techniques for putting candidates at ease and trying to improve how things are going to determine where their experience lies.

I'm truly sorry you had this experience, because it sounds absolutely miserable. That said, if I had a candidate who completely bombed, word would get back to HR or the hiring manager immediately.

The best reason to chalk this up to a learning experience has to do with the nature of lawsuits. The admitted fact that you bombed the interview will not go well at trial. I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect you'd have to explain how you both bombed the interview and didn't significantly misstate your qualifications. You didn't say they asked you off-topic or irrelevant questions ("I was asked front-end questions, and I'm a back-end developer interviewing for a back-end position", for example). More to the point, if it were determined at trial that you misstated your qualifications, that would manage to follow you around. Attempting to "name and shame" an employer can also go badly. Again, you'd have to explain how you bombed an interview and it's somehow their fault.

My suggestion is to take a long and hard look at the questions you were asked and why you did so poorly.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Jan 23 at 15:40
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A returned ticket that had already been paid but cancelled, is more than reasonable if you committed a fraud. Didn't you mention you weren't able to answer a single interview question? I have my suspicion you lied on your resume. A very serious mislead on your resume.

Yes. It's legally and morally alright for cancelling your ticket in this case.

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    There are many reasons why an honest person (and perhaps a good worker, too) would fail every question, from being misrepresented by the recruiter, to being "bombed" by the prospective manager who changed their mind before the interview even started, to a serious last-minute sickness. Accusing someone in serious need because of a hyperbole they used sounds very wrong. – undercat Jan 17 at 6:08
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    @SmallChess depending on how many questions there are and how specialized, this can happen. It's the company's duty to do phone screens et al before flying someone out. – Magisch Jan 17 at 6:13
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    Even if that were true, I wouldn't consider cancelling someone's already booked return flight a reasonable reaction. Trying to recover the entire sum (both flights and other costs) afterward would leave the company in a far less vulnerable position. – Martijn Heemels Jan 17 at 11:09
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    @SmallChess I find it pretty weird that all your counterpoints are "what if {insert extreme situation}." We don't know the what if, so we're not in the position to speculate it. What we do know is that this company and user came to an agreement, where the user would sacrifice their time to go out for an interview, and the company would pay for it. If the company felt cheated, they could go after it in small claims court. But it sounds like the user made it past vetting, and then they changed their mind and wanted to mitigate the cost of the mistake. Which is backed up by facts in the story. – knocked loose Jan 17 at 14:17
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    @SmallChess even then, the proper way to follow up on that is sue / pursue them later for costs, not to cancel their ticket. Even assuming your most extreme case, what they did wouldn't be legal or moral. And that is a large assumption. – Magisch Jan 17 at 14:47

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