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I had an in-person interview. The office was one big open room. There were two people sitting close to me interviewing me. There was another person close by who was working. He started talking very loudly on the phone (I think for a work-related conversation). It honestly messed me up when I was trying to answer interview questions.

Should I have said anything or expected the interviewers to say anything? Given there wasn't any separate rooms in the office I guess there wasn't anything that could've been done.

As a bit of an aside, one of the people running the interview got sidetracked and started a tangent conversation with him. The other person running the interview got a bit annoyed with him. Does this reflect bad on the company or individual, or would that be jumping to assumptions?

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    Some clarification to the question may help: is the environment you faced seem to be the norm in whatever industry/company size you are looking for and you need help dealing with that or you found it unusual and just need help sorting out this particular case? Environments for interview for MCDonalds line cook, 4th dev in 3 person startup, developer in Google all would be quite different... Feb 13 at 23:17
  • Re "jumping to assumptions": Isn't "jumping to conclusions" more idiomatic (not a rhetorical question)? Feb 16 at 16:16
  • @PeterMortensen yes. Yes it is... though the current form is certainly comprehensible.
    – Ben Barden
    Feb 17 at 16:31
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An interview is a two way street. They checked you out. You checked them out. It seems their normal day to day operations is doing their jobs in environments full of distractions. I would not want to work there. You probably don't want that either. Good thing you had this interview, so you can put that application away and focus on the other ones.

It might have been admissible if they had apologized profoundly and explained why this is a one-time only problem. Maybe in winter the heating in the conference room broke just this morning and the landlords people are in there fixing it right now. Or in summer they found a wasp nest right outside the window and had to have it removed by professionals. Whatever the one-time mess is, it happens despite the best planning.

But this did not seem like an unplanned interruption. It seemed like their normal way of conducting business. So, decide whether that is a job you would enjoy and act accordingly.

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    Some people can do find in that environment, but some can't, so it's great that you found out about this before and not after. The "Open Office" concept really is not for the employee's benefit...
    – Nelson
    Feb 14 at 15:02
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    It would be "interesting" to ask them about this if they ask to proceed further, especially if you're willing to not proceed. Maybe it was an ill advised soft skills test. I once had an college grad interview with a panel where the director started tapping his pencil loudly on the table and I still really wish I knew what was going on there. Trying to rattle me? Or just a jerk? Both?
    – rrauenza
    Feb 15 at 18:04
  • I don't think it answers the question to say "if you didn't like it, don't take the job" - not everyone has that luxury. And what may be a poor interview environment could be a perfectly fine work environment.
    – Mr_Thyroid
    Feb 19 at 14:23
  • @Mr_Thyroid at least for the guy on the phone, it was a bad work environment. There were people interviewing while he was trying to get work done, the interview was so distracting, he had to raise his voice to get heard on the phone.
    – nvoigt
    Feb 21 at 9:11
  • @rrauenza Neither maybe - could have been unconscious (maybe a sign of boredom/impatience/anxiety), just like people click retractable pens.
    – zmike
    Mar 26 at 22:51
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I have been to a lot of job interviews in my life. Sometimes the interviewers said weird things during the interview, and sometimes the interviewers had not read my CV beforehand. However, never was I denied the common courtesy of being interviewed in a quiet room with only me and the interviewers present.

To deny you such a thing, I think, is just flat out impolite and should be considered a red flag. If the company really doesn't have a separate quiet room available that should be a red flag too. Do they treat visiting customers the same way as you?

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    Personally, I think the key un-answered question here is whether this was a deliberate decision on their part (testing how well you reacted to distractions) or just a reflection of their 'business culture'. Feb 15 at 9:28
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    @MikeBrockington I don't think that's as important a distinction as it might seem. If it was a deliberate decision, then they'd have been doing it to test how well he responded to distractions... which suggests that they consider "can deal with constant distractions" to be a major requirement, to the point that they warp interviews around it. All we must do is assume that they're correct, and it reflects on the business culture once again.
    – Ben Barden
    Feb 17 at 16:29
  • @BenBarden Hmm, maybe. Certainly, if the choice was either/or, then I would rather work for a company who were aware that ability to work in imperfect surroundings is important, rather than a company who doesn't even realise that conditions are imperfect. Feb 17 at 17:16
  • @MikeBrockington one way or the other, you're going to see a lot of distractions during the day, and there probably isn't the institutional will to fix that. Some people can work well in those circumstances. Others, not so much. How much dos it matter whether the resulting self-selection was intentional on their part or not?
    – Ben Barden
    Feb 17 at 19:40
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Having an interview in an unusual setting is not necessarily a bad thing. I landed one of my most fulfilling jobs through an interview ad-lib conducted in public.

I was scheduled for a job interview at a school in a foreign country. Travel arrangements were made. At my arrival and due to unforeseen circumstances, the headmaster was unable to conduct the interview in his office as planned. Instead the staff kindly helped me get to him at a local church, where a student orchestra was rehearsing for a performance the same evening.

The street outside was bustling. Due to orchestral activity it was not possible to talk in the church itself. The only available space was a lengthy narrow indoor corridor between the two, where a multitude of elderly people sat on chairs lined up against both walls chatting. I still recall 25 years later the headmasters look as he briefly considered options, then resolutely grabbed two chairs and sat them face to face squarely in the middle of the corridor inviting me to sit.

So I had my interview on the spot and with a keenly interested audience listening in, an experience not even closely repeated before or since.

It was a pleasant interview, I got to see how helpful and professional the school staff was when things go wrong, as well as the amicable way with which the headmaster accepted an unforeseen situation, adapted and asserted his decisions in a constructive manner. The headmaster (together with a portion of the local elderly community) could similarly observe me. A potentially very uncomfortable situation for us both instead became a pleasant and in retrospect humorous memory for life for me.

I was offered the job and gladly accepted. Had my impression been a bad one, I would hardly have done so.

So my suggestion is not to judge the employer so much based on the perhaps unavoidable necessity of being interviewed in close vicinity of others, but on the information about the workplace you yourself can pick up from such a proceeding.

From your question I see that your experience left you with questions about the workplace culture which rather easily could have been avoided by a more skilled interviewer, and with a feeling of having involuntarily inconvenienced others. What more information did the workplace give? Work with what you received.

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Does this reflect badly on the company or individual?

Bad here is entirely subjective; that's rather the crux of the issue.

You seem to be approaching this from the angle of

I didn't like aspects of how they conducted this interview. Should I have expected them to explain or apologise for these aspects?

Consider another angle:

The interview accurately mirrored their usual working environment. It was simply presented as was, without comment, and I had the opportunity to honestly evaluate it.

Looking at it that way, you can see something counter-intuitive: bad as it was in your opinion, it was actually a very good interview in the broad sense. You got to see that you likely wouldn't enjoy that working environment, a key factor you can now consider should you get an offer.

Ironically, it would have been a bad interview if they had apologised and assured you these kinds of things don't usually happen, then you take the job and it turns out they actually do.

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  • I proposed an edit to remove the code formatting, which is impossible for screen-readers to access. This improved your answer, rendering it accessible to people with vision problems. Why did you reject that edit?
    – TRiG
    Mar 26 at 9:56
  • 1
    @TRiG: My sincere apologies - I didn't see that reason on the edit (perhaps it was there and I missed it), so assumed it was an aesthetic change. I wasn't aware of accessibility issues with <code> tags, being plain text, but it does make sense that screen readers wouldn't render it well as an inline quote in prose. Please resubmit the edit and I'll accept, otherwise I'll edit it soon. Thanks a lot for raising this, always grateful to learn about accessibility mistakes so I can avoid them in future!
    – davnicwil
    Mar 26 at 12:04
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Your interview bombed. Maybe it wasn't your fault. Maybe it was their fault. But if you have one interviewer distracted and not even worth worrying about showing you the common courtesy to leave before having another conversation, and a second interviewer is irritated (even if it is at the other person, and not irritated at your), then you have interviewers who weren't impressed by their experience in the meeting. That doesn't look well for you.

Keep in mind that non-excellence could just be an aberration. For instance, I recall I had a job interview once where I took a test on a computer, and so I was in a little-used lobby area near the front door. The main work area was free of irrelevant loud sounds (as this was a call center). Some loud employees went nearby that lobby area and made it hard for me to hear the recordings as part of the computerized hearing test. I ended up getting the job, and learning that they really should have stepped outside before being that loud.

In your case, though, this wasn't some low-on-the-totem people who were acting unfortunate. These were the interviewers, who are often people you report to.

If something goes poorly in an interview, there is rarely forgiveness. Case in point: I remember my boss describing an interview, where he asked something that unknowingly touched upon the recent death of the candidate's father. A truly bad coincidence, but what really harmed the candidate is that his response left the interviewer to feel awkward. In our problem-handling department, sometimes things don't go well, yet standards are high and we're expected to consistently make the best of situations. The fact that this sensitive topics was stumbled upon was a completely unintentional accident. Even still, the situation ended up revealing that the candidate's response was unimpressive.

Whether this sounds desirable or not, the truth is that an interview's results can be harsh. Any ounce of imperfection seen by a candidate may, or might not, cost the candidate considerably. (The amount of forgiveness can vary based on who is doing the interview.) If an environment messes you up, that will cost you in some interviews. The best you can be expected to do is to simply try to make the interview be the best possible, and if you don't succeed in this one, keep trying again. (If the opportunity comes up later, you might even want to try again with the same organization. Even many interviewers who will silently judge harshly during an interview, and who might remember imperfection from a prior interview, may still be prone to offer more forgiveness for an incident from a prior time, on the grounds that they understand that growth/improvement may have happened since then.)

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I once had an interview for a programming job over lunch in a restaurant with two other people at our table and this was very distracting. The interviewers deliberately set the situation up and it adds another way of separating the candidates. You can practice this kind of situation by creating it yourself with friends. Take it slowly, concentrate on the speaker, listen to the questions and take advantage of the pauses to have a mouthful to eat.

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    What a messed up way of conducting interviews... If that's how they treat applicants, I wouldn't be wanting to discover how they treat employees...
    – Laurent S.
    Feb 13 at 11:31
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    That sounds a bit condescending. I have a hard time focusing in distracting environment, and no amount of "practice" makes it better. In fact, it seriously wears me down. I challenge the notion that this is something everyone can practice, let alone should.
    – marcelm
    Feb 13 at 18:01
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    That is just a bad use of time. How many interviews do you expect to go on like this? Are you applying for a job where the programmer has people yakking and munching on both sides all the time? Feb 13 at 23:11
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    @DanielR.Collins That sounds like a perfectly normal programming work environment IMO.
    – alephzero
    Feb 14 at 1:11
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    It is definitely a way to separate candidates. Not to separate the good candidates from the bad ones, but the ones who can and are willing to work in a horribly distracting environment from the ones who are not. If they had mentioned "in a chaotic work environment" in the job advertisement, then they wouldn't have wasted anyone's time and it would have been fair. Feb 14 at 9:23

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