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Recently I had a job interview at a German company. Almost the entire interview was about me and my skills. Basically, the interviewers named a keyword from my professional field and asked me what I knew about it and how I would imagine one could possibly use the skills associated with that keyword when working for the company. Then I was asked to react to the next keyword. Neither the job advertisement nor the interviewers mentioned what exactly the team I was supposed to be a member of was actually working on.

Right in the beginning of the interview I was told that it will not be necessary for me to ask any questions because HR had a document with frequently asked questions they were willing to send me if the interview had a positive outcome. Nevertheless, I was allowed to ask one question in the end. Then they referred to their unpublished FAQs.

How common is this type of job interview? Are there any good reasons why a company would prefer this one-way form of communication?

I feel this might be a "red flag", but I am still puzzled. Why would a company put that much effort into making a bad impression? I am still willing to believe that there are some advantages that I am not able to see at the moment.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 9 at 23:19

18 Answers 18

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How common is this type of job interview? Are there any good reasons why a company would prefer this one-way form of communication?

That's pretty unusual and would be a red flag for me.

Interviewing is a two way street. In order for a hire to be successful, the candidate must be a good fit for the role, but the role and the culture must also be a good fit for the candidate. Otherwise they will walk or just mentally check out. If the wrong candidate gets hired, everyone loses.

This being said, some of the larger and well know German companies display sometimes "excessive self confidence" and believe everyone would be lucky to work for them.

It depends on the specific company and the seniority of the role, but I would proceed with caution here.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Sep 11 at 22:30
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I would say this kind of interview is very uncommon, and with good reason.

Usually a job interview is so that both parties get a feel for one another. If it ends up more like a interrogation, then the interviewer won't know everything they should about the candidate. Of course, the candidate doesn't know whether or not they should take the job.

You know more about your situation than us, so only you can decide what to do about it though.

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    "so that both parties get a feel for one another" - and in fact, the OP did get feel for the company. Maybe not the one they hoped for. :) Sep 8 at 22:22
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I'm not defending the company here, and honestly, this sounds like terrible interview practice.

But, one possible explanation could be that this was a pool interview.

In other words, there are X possible roles available within the company (possibly for different departments), and they are using the interview to figure out which, if any, you would be a good fit for.

They are reluctant to answer questions, because at this stage they can tell you almost nothing about the work you would be doing, as it would depend on which role you were selected for.

Having said all of that, I still don't see why the company couldn't just be up-front and honest about what they were doing... if they were open to feedback, they would realise they are putting off candidates by acting this way.

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  • good poin t with the pool interview, maybe they are trying to create a talent pool of suitable candidates for present or future positions to be filled - but IMO it would be nice of them to allow even pool-candidates to ask a question or two..
    – iLuvLogix
    Sep 8 at 14:40
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    while those circumstances will limit the scope of questions that have precise answers; ones about general business practices and company culture should still be on topic. Sep 8 at 16:46
  • @DanIsFiddlingByFirelight True — though in this case, general questions could be covered by the HR document.
    – gidds
    Sep 9 at 0:58
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    If that is the case, I don't think it is harm to tell the candidates rather than having this terrible practice
    – Gopi
    Sep 9 at 3:50
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    @gidds I wouldn't trust an HR document about that. Way too likely to describe idealistic vision rather than reality, and to be mostly clueless at best about specifics of what day to day work would look like. Where I'd expect an HR doc to be useful would be for benefits and the like; and even there I'd want to talk about some things it covers. ex what sort of friction there is with scheduling time off. Sep 9 at 4:35
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+150

TL;DR: It might be an Assessment-Center

In some large German companies, there is the process of an "Assessment-Center" (yes, the english term is used in german). I was lucky enough to avoid them in my career, and they are frowned upon by many. These are no regular interviews, but maybe this wasn't clearly presented to you. It might be that the HR representatives thought it is well-known that the recruitment operates this way. They're explicitly designed to be utterly impersonal and stressful, with multiply-choice questionnaires in order to screen out many candidates in the first round. There are usually several stages in this process, and your comment "They mentioned a follow-up appointment for social and psychological assessment" very much sounds like that.

The whole process is inspired by military recruitment, so the one-way communication is also by design. The english Wikipedia: Assessment center describes it in general terms, the german version is more relevant to the practice in germany. As described there, "structured interviews (often in the beginning)" are one of the "essential methods" of an assessment center. I know that this is the standard procedure at Daimler (the Mercedes-Benz manufacturer) for all unsolicited applications up to mid-tier.

If you can handle the stress (and it is absolutely fine to dislike it and walk away), and you are selected for the next rounds, consider going along with the stages. At an early stage, there is likely no contact between HR and the team leads at all, so the actual position might turn out to be nice. So it is no surprise that they cannot answer questions regarding the position. If, even by the end, it is still harsh and impersonal, you can still turn away from them.

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That is super unusual.

It might be acceptable when the job in question is highly standardized, maybe unionized, maybe limited in time. For example, cleaning tables at a big fast food chain over the summer. They have this opening, it's not very flexible, they have lots of candidates and they are only looking for one or two to accept it as is with no hassle.

Any job that is more than just a McJob to earn money while preparing to get a real job will let you ask questions.

Matter of fact, I would say half the people we hire, we hire because they asked smart questions, that showed they were in it and had thought about it.

So yes, for a real job, that is a huuuuge red flag. I would even find it strange for a summer job interview to not allow questions. That is so disrespectful, I would be tempted to leave on the spot.

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    Ugh. I hate it when the "do you have a question" part of the interview is actually a trick question, and you're expected to ask "a good question". I always tell candidates that I'm done with my notes, close my laptop, and tell them that they may ask me anything they want, but it's okay if they don't ask anything. Our position is that the candidate is interviewing us as much as we're interviewing them, so this is a chance for them to really ask what they want, not for us to see if they can come up with a smart question. Sep 8 at 22:25
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    Not sure where the "trick question" part comes from. I talk to a candidate for an hour or two describing us, asking questions about them, trying to find out if we are a good fit. They can ask questions at any time. If the candidate has zero questions, that means they are not really good at doing the same thing I do: find out if we are a good fit. An important question about a topic from a candidate can tell me more about them then their cookie cutter answer to one of my questions. It shows they are engaged and interested instead of just trying to get a job, any job.
    – nvoigt
    Sep 9 at 6:53
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    At my current employer, we make structured interviews with very specific rubrics, that are graded by a committee that never met the candidate, so we can remove all types of biases, and get as close to hiring the objectively best candidates as possible. Grading based on the types of questions a candidates makes is in my option unfair, a great way to include biases, and not a very good signal anyways, since there's list of "good questions to ask your interviewer" all over the internet. But your company may be different. Let's agree to disagree. Sep 9 at 7:05
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    Well, we need employees that ask questions if something is unclear, so candidates asking questions if something is unclear is a good thing. Please note that I have no list of "objectively good questions to ask" that I use to grade, it's about being in the context of the discussion and asking sensible questions in that context. We only have a few teams here, so "being a good fit" is much more important than in your case, where you may be able to shift an objectively great candidate through different teams until they gel with one. So yes, different requirements, different way to find candidates.
    – nvoigt
    Sep 9 at 8:20
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    "If the candidate has zero questions, that means they are not really good at doing the same thing I do: find out if we are a good fit." Are you trying to hire a new hiring manager? If not, then requiring the new employee to be good at interviewing is pointless. Good communication skills are good, but good communication skills include pulling information from responses so maybe the candidate already got all the information they need? This seems like a dumb trick meant to make yourself feel smart like the old google interviews.
    – GreySage
    Sep 10 at 18:52
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Quite common if they are hiring in bulk

Unfortunately, this is a common situation with some companies, not only in Germany but elsewhere. To put it simple, company is usually well known, and reputable in its field. Think Mercedes-Benz or Bosch. They do not have to be that big, but is expected from candidates to already know about them (unless they were living under rock :) ) . Especially in Germany, such company would provide certain job security (due to labor laws they cannot just fire you) and would be a nice point in the resume (he worked for BMW ) .

Therefore, it is expected from candidates to be honored to work in such company, and grateful if given a chance. Also it is expected that for each position there will be a lot of candidates, especially if the company is hiring in bulk for more junior positions. For example, such company may decide to hire 30 embedded software engineers straight from recent university graduates. For these positions they could have hundreds of applications, especially if they allow foreign citizens to apply. In such situations they are not looking for primadonnas, they just need sufficiently skilled individuals they could mold into what they need. Certain obedience and lack of individualism is unfortunately expected. Or in simple terms, successful candidates would need to fit into corporate culture.

Usually, there would be several interviewing teams and several rounds of interviews, each with strictly divided roles. They would go for efficiency, trying to filter out unsuitable candidates as fast as possible. In lot of cases candidates would not compete for a certain position in a certain team. Instead, they would assign them to specific duties only after the hiring process is completed. Therefore, interviewers would sometimes not even know specifics of the job.

As a final note, sometimes these practices do carry over even when hiring more senior people, simply because of large bureaucracy and overblown role of HR. Of course, this puts off some (lot) of people, so they do not always get best candidates for the job. Since this companies usually have good position on the market and lots of money, pressure to change is small (until is to late :) ) . Therefore, as an advice, if you do not like such corporate culture do not apply. Of course, usually there is enough people that would go on even with these inconveniences, simply to have good salary, nice tick in resume and job security.

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    What BS I should be honoured to design the website that my employer sells for 30K. Maybe that is the case in some professions, but as a programmer I'm directly responsible for a sizeable chunks of the company's income. The company should be honoured to have such a cash-cow working for them
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 9 at 20:05
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    @NeilMeyer Different mindsets. Also, you won't be working for some small scale startup that sells websites. These are large companies that usually have much different products, and working for them is a ticket of admission into industry.
    – rs.29
    Sep 10 at 3:33
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I hope that this type of job interview is not common. In my field we have a shortage of skilled candidates in Germany. From the employer's perspective it's not only important to get to know the candidate, but it's also important to make a good impression on the candidate.

As team leader I'm interviewing candidates at least twice a month. We usually structure our 60 min interviews in three parts:

  1. In the first 10 min I introduce myself, give an overview about the company, branch office, our team, the typical projects and show examples of our work. This introduction helps to break the ice. The candidate gets a good understanding of their future work and gets a chance to reduce potential nervousness.

  2. In the main part of the interview, for about 40 min, the candidate is in the lead and presents his CV, work experience and education. As interviewer I ask questions from time to time to get to know more details and to check if the candidate has a deeper knowledge of the topics they are alking about.

  3. In the last 10 min the candidate can ask us any question. "What would you like to know from us?" In many cases the candidate answers that most questions have already been addressed during my introduction.

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    I‘d suggest being more gender neutral in english. ‚They, their, them‘ makes reading sentences about unknown candidates better than assuming any specific gender. It‘s no different than something like ‚studierenden‘
    – morbo
    Sep 9 at 11:42
  • Exactly. Qualified and motivated personnel is often hard to find. That kind of interview does not increase their chances. Sep 9 at 12:26
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    @morbo – Gender neutrality issues prevail in Westarn culture but this is a global site where not everyone may get an idea of it. Maybe just edit the answer (by clicking the Edit link with enough site reputation) if you think the grammar is incorrect and fix the issues in order to improve the answer.
    – miroxlav
    Sep 9 at 16:06
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    @miroxlav the poster is most certainly german, so they're more than well aware, but it is a common mistake among german speakers when translating to english is to also translate the pronouns exactly, which often causes mishaps in english...being a speaker of both languages myself, I see this commonly....hence also my example given for the poster. I could edit, but I'm rather against editing others posts as I don't prefer mine being edited either.
    – morbo
    Sep 9 at 16:14
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You also interview the company. Company also asks questions that you answer all the time. That is not a reason for you to tell a company:

During the interview I will not be taking questions. I will provide a list of all the questions you might ask as a company after the interview

Why would you do such thing? Or a company?

  1. They think their time is more valuable than yours
  2. They are not interested in your critical thinking, which is highlighted by how someone asks a question
  3. They lack soft skills and do not seek or do not know how to hire someone with them
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Like the others, I also think it's quite weird and I never encountered this behaviour during an interview myself. However here are the reasons I can think of why a company would behave like this.

  • They have dozens/hundreds interviews more to do and are on a really tight schedule.

  • They indeed think that a job interview is a oneway street where they get to decide who is allowed to work at their company.

  • It's a deliberate strategy to hide the fact the job in question is quite crappy.

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Are there any good reasons why a company would prefer this one-way form of communication?

I have no idea if this was the rationale for your interview, but one of my associates just went through a US military contractor interview that had a couple of similarities.

In this interview there were no questions at all (it was to be a live prepared presentation based on instructions given ahead of time). The colleague was told that this was done to reduce bias on the part of interviewers that might ask clarifying questions only from preferred candidates. Anyone selected to go past that stage would get a separate time to ask their questions to the team.

If I am charitable, I can imagine that that this process was done for similar reasons. That it is a method they think will even the playing field for all candidates.

I could probably roll with whatever scheme they wanted to come up with. But I would be very annoyed that any such non-standard process was not explained to me. If that is their reasoning, it doesn't need to be opaque. (Maybe it'll be in their FAQ and they'll let you in on the secret after the fact).

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    If it's really something non-malicious like bias elimination, the party conducting the interview should be able to tell you that and explain how it's intended to curb bias. Sep 9 at 17:33
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A slightly different context where this might happen is a short first interview for a technical job with many applicants who don't meet the criteria. A half hour phone interview checks whether it's worth both the parties investing more time. This is especially the case if the number of skilled candidates is less than the number who just put relevant keywords on their CV. Personally if the first interview is like this, I would expect the second to be more of a two-way street. I don't think it's reasonable to finish an entire interview process without having time to ask more about the team and role, though it is also interesting to hear about the process at some big German firms, as in other answers.

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Increasingly common

There are a lot of factors that are leading to this style of interviewing in recent years based on my experience.

  • companies follow a script
  • interviews are seen increasingly as tests
  • data is collected requiring a standard process
  • general immaturity about hiring quality people
  • interviews are seen as data collection exercises
  • fear about talking about difficult subjects and topics
  • lack of experience in working with diverse personalities

Personally I'ved tried turning this around when I am interviewing candidates by

Asking candidates for their questions at the start of the interview!

Part of the fun is seeing candidates reaction to that.
Some come alive at that moment and really shine !

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Knowledge of the Job itself may be Confidential Information

This kind of secrecy is not uncommon in very large corporations and or in situations were chains of non-disclosure are too complex for the interviewer to know exactly what he can and can not tell you.

One example where I've seen something like this was an interview I had with Microsoft several years back. They were working on a product that by its very description could have gotten back to Apple or Google and lost Microsoft its competitive advantage in that field. They also had to hire over 100 people to work on it which meant that the odds of a single candidate ignoring a non-disclosure and blabbing about the details of the project were already very high; so, to minimize the risk of leaking that this was a product they were working on, they refused to tell anyone what the job was until they were hired. I did not even know until my second interview if it was for a programming or graphic design position.

The other time I've seen something like this, I was the one conducting the interview. The problem was that we were trying to hire someone to work on a system where our rights to share information about another company's intellectual property was ambiguous. We only had the right to share information with our own employees; so, the way our non-disclosure agreement was worded with them, we did not have thier permission to share any details about the project with candidates. The whole interview was me walking on egg shells to not accidently disclose something I shouldn't. I did not have a convenient FAQs list of things I was allowed to disclose, but if I did, I would have felt a lot more comfortable referring to it than risking a lawsuit and/or loosing a major client over accidently saying too much.

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It's probably not really a red flag or unusual (for some companies). The company has just taken the interview process to the nth-degree. More than likely the interviewers do not have the technical background or knowledge of the specifics of said job (and so don't want to be caught out). And given their limited time with each candidate, they simply keep to a preset schedule of questions and only permit a single question at the end. They have just refined their interview technique after probably doing 100’s of interviews in the past. This could be interpreted as being cold in some societies, but it’s nothing to be overly concerned about.

PS: I’m not a recruiter, but have worked in the IT industry for 30+ years and have been in/conducted 1000’s of interviews.

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    How is that "not really a red-flag"? If they already can't be bothered to treat you with respect during the interview, it's unlikely to improve much if you actually work there. Sep 9 at 14:17
  • Someone who doesn't know what the questions and answers mean isn't going to be able to generate any kind of meaningful follow up to a question's answer. Which is sort of a crappy interview quality as well.
    – Yakk
    Sep 9 at 17:33
  • Yes @user3067860, that can sometimes be the case. I used to work for a large photographic company, and whilst HR were absolutely shocking (to the point of bullying), the rest of the people/business were terrific.
    – SarahJ
    Sep 9 at 21:00
  • Yes @Yakk, perhaps not the best interview technique around. It's likely to be a limited time/resource problem. Recently I was roped into interviewing for a position from a pool of 150 candidates, in addition to my regular job. I reduced the list down to just 5 candidates who were then interviewed. It's not particularly nice culling potential work-mates down from a 30second review of just their cv :-(
    – SarahJ
    Sep 9 at 21:21
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It’s just a minor addition to the existing answers, but since my comment was deleted, here in answer form:

I agree that it is uncommon, generally a red flag and a bad way for finding skilled and critical candidates, but there might be some reasons to it:

  • very high prestige employer or entry-level position with a standardized first round interview

  • company is not yet sure which position the candidate qualifies

  • candidate is from a known competitor and they want to guard against too much internals being leaked

  • company operates in high innovation area like research, security, new product or startup and wants to protect IP

In the last two cases However listening to the questions and in case it is required to explain why no answer is possible would be much better.

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My impression is it will not be necessary for you to ask any questions for you to be able to answer our questions. It other words, all questions are self contained; they have sufficient information in them to be answered without clarification.

Maybe they are busy and want to make the interview process faster, so they can fire lots of questions at you without wasting time on affirming "did the candidate ask clarifying questions".

It makes the interview one-sided, but so what.

And their FAQ answers all the HR queries you may have, if you make the first cut. If you don't make the cut, the HR stuff is irrelevant, so don't waste our time asking about it.

Sounds efficient to me.

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    Giving them the finger and yelling "we don't like people like you around in these parts" would be even more efficient in conveying essentially the same message. Given the current dearth of qualified candidates for basically everything, it seems wiser to accomodate candidates who have questions (unless you really want to be stuck with the truly desparate ones), because if you don't have time for them, why should they have time for you? Sep 9 at 7:02
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It's probably not useful to speculate on exactly how common it is -- among other things, it depends highly on the country, field, company, position... But it's certainly not the most common way to do interviews, and with good reason:

  • The best candidates usually have important questions themselves. For example, maybe they are trying to choose from multiple competing offers, so an employer who doesn't answer their questions "fails" the interview and misses out on a chance to make their case.
  • Many reasonable people are put off by what could be perceived as a very one-sided culture.
  • The candidate's questions can be very informative about their knowledge, mindset, attitude and interest in the position.
  • The candidate can act as an additional check on the interview process proceeding as expected. For example if the candidate was supposed to get an invite to the next round, but the email never got sent, this can be easily resolved if the candidate gets to ask "who will I interview next again?". If they don't get to ask questions, the employer will have to do a lot of work to make sure nothing went wrong with the logistics. Perhaps they are really good at being on top of it in Germany, but in my experience it is very hard to not have any minor logistical issues when interviewing.

Normally, there is no reason to disallow questions entirely. You can timebox them to a few minutes if you really want to, or tell the candidate to email the question to you afterwards. But then again, interviews don't have to be perfect - they just have to be such that good candidates behave differently than bad candidates, so that an offer can be extended to the former while the latter is disregarded. You can still tell the bad from the good even if they can't ask questions, it's just harder. But then perhaps there's some institutional bureaucracy that left them no alternative, or perhaps they realize it's not a great model but are stuck to it because they want to conduct interviews consistently.

Rather than guessing at their motives, I would proceed like so:

  • Does the job seem otherwise attractive? If no, withdraw and move on.
  • Would it bother you if you worked at a place where people only talk at you, and never want to hear your opinion or answer your questions? If no, go ahead and consider their offer. If yes, see if you can find out more about their culture -- just because they don't want questions in the interview, doesn't necessarily mean the job itself is like that. So once you get the stage where they're making you an offer, and are willing to hear what it would take for you to accept, then you can tell them you want to ask questions, and they will take the request seriously.
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I would not worry about this at all. My explanation would be that the interviewer simply is not very experienced or enlightened about this kind of discussion. When I was just a little teamlead, I got no guidance from my company whatsoever on how to do these things, and I might have lead one or two interviews like this as well.

The important thing for you is that you eventually do get the information you require, i.e. check their FAQ to see if it covers anything you are missing (for example, how project work is structured and so on), or ask your HR contact that you have some questions not covered in the FAQ.

Either their process is just inefficient and you eventually get your info after a longer time than strictly necessary. If it turns out that you like what you are hearing, there is no reason to assume that the work in the company is bad just because the interview process is suboptimal.

Or you find a better job in the meantime with a more efficient company, and then it's a moot point.

If you simply do not get the information, and there are no particular reasons for you to absolutely want to work there (like great salary, short commute, interesting topics...), then just forget about the company and look elsewhere.

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    You kind of have to assume that the team lead is not going to improve from what you get in the interview, though. It's not really a good plan to go in saying "Well, the team lead seemed like they were still figuring out how to do their job, but I'm sure they'll improve with experience!" (Unless you're willing to quit again in a few months if it looks like the team lead isn't learning as well as you hoped for after all...) Sep 9 at 14:59
  • The team lead might just be fine in his everyday role (leading the team) and just inexperienced in having interviews, @user3067860. At least in my company, the whole application process is quite separated from the actual work. Note that in my last paragraph I mention that OP should make sure his questions (about how the company works) are cleared up, I am not suggesting just to close his eyes and go in blind.
    – AnoE
    Sep 10 at 7:11

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