I had attended a Skype interview recently with a pretty known firm in a foreign country. Part of the interview involved a fairly easy task but the interviewer pronounced words that I did not understand. While trying to clarify, there were misunderstandings which caused friction that hadn't been there at the start. The interviewer seemed to become hostile and made sarcastic remarks about people from my country. Eventually, I was able to understand what he wanted and the interview progressed. But by this time the mood had soured, the interview went downhill and in the end the firm decided not to progress to the next round.

What can I do to salvage an interview if it has turned based on a misunderstanding? And how can one be better prepared to handle interviews turning hostile?

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    Comments removed. Please use comments to clarify and improve the question. For extended discussion, please use The Workplace Chat. For further discussion related to this question, please see this meta question. – yoozer8 Nov 14 '13 at 21:28
  • Question was massively edited, so the answers reference material that only exists in edit history (eg examples of confusion over pronuciation of "MTRI" vs "empty array"). – SusanW Mar 7 '19 at 1:05

I think this is one of those things where you are just out of luck. He said "empty array" and you heard MTRI and you just couldn't get your brain to let go of that. After all, when it was finally settled, what he really said to you was "Is that how Americans call empty array, huh ?" but even in reporting it here you can't seem to realize that he said empty array.

From his point of view it would be as if he had said dahtabase (as most Australians do) and you had no idea what he meant and it took 5 minutes and then you said "oh, daytabase!" and then wrote the code he wanted. He probably thinks you were hostile to his accent and were making fun of him. I doubt there is a way to recover, but a nice email (since written language will probably work better for you two) might go some way to getting you a second chance.

  • What I was reporting here is verbatim. So I wrote what I heard. Believe me, as much as I wanted to understand this guy and communicate with him and clear the interview, there is hardly anything I could do about it as the situation slowly turned bully'ish/hostile. – happybuddha Nov 13 '13 at 22:01
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    I think Kate is trying to say that if he were asked, he would say that you were becoming increasingly bully'ish/hostile. In other words, it was going both ways. – thursdaysgeek Nov 13 '13 at 23:38

When you simply aren't understanding someone, apolgize profusely and ask them to spell the word. "I am so sorry, but I am just not understanding what you are saying. Can you spell MTRI for me?" If you think it's an acronym, then if he really just gives you letters, you can then ask for what the acronym means. In this case, you would have realized it was not an acroymn.

Having it spelled makes it obvious that you're having trouble with the accent (which can portend trouble in the future if he would be your boss). But it can also clear up misunderstandings, because you'll understand at least some of the letters, and you're getting additional clues to what he is saying. (I was introduced to a NZ cousin and he said his name was 'Mack'. I didn't understand, and asked a couple of times, and finally asked him to spell his name: "em ah kay ee, mack." I understood 3 of those 4 letters and realized his name was Mike!)

The apology is important too. Even though he may be having trouble understanding you as well, it looks good that you're not holding that against him, but apolgizing for your inability to understand. It also defuses the situation. The interviewer is frustrated, you're frustrated, but an apology breaks that mounting tension.

  • As aside living in NZ with the E being an I and I being an A was weird at first! – Preet Sangha Nov 14 '13 at 3:25

How to handle hostility in interviews?

what are some of the ways one can handle these types of situations in the future ?

While I tend to blush when I get angry, I try hard to remain calm and completely ignore any hostility I'm sensing during an interview. I basically pretend that it didn't happen, or that I didn't even hear the slights.

But I mentally note what happened, and typically put that in the "cons" column when I later assess my feelings of how the company and people came across during the interview. Then, I weigh that against the "pros" I observed as I try to make my decision whether to continue pursuing the position or not.

Depending on the depth of the hostility, I may follow up with the next interviewer on my list. I want to try and find out if everyone at this company is like that hostile person, if he is the only one like that, or if he was just having a bad day.

My sense is that no good can come of reacting hostilely to hostility. I may get rejected from a job I would otherwise want if I react in kind.

I'm not usually one to suffer fools gladly, but I'm willing to swallow my anger and pride to the best of my ability for a few hours, in hopes that it might lead to something good. If it doesn't turn out well, so be it.

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