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In a past interview for a company I had several one-on-one interviews with several different people. With one individual, the interviewer's phone rang and he answered the phone and talked to his wife for a couple of minutes.

On another occasion with another company, a group was interviewing me and one of the people in the group was just playing with his smartphone (to me, it was obvious it was not work related).

I feel if I had done the same it would mean immediate disqualification from the job.

This was very insulting to me. I had taken vacation time from my current job. I feel either I wasn't a serious candidate or they just lacked common courtesy. What can I do to address the situation?

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    Did you at any point speak to someone in HR? Did you at any point speak to a manager with hiring authority? – Eric Lippert Jun 13 '15 at 16:04
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    Apply somewhere else. The Boss is always right. – user15729 Jun 13 '15 at 16:29
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    Other than letting off steam and thus emotional stress, there's almost never any direct benefit to letting an interviewer know how much you think they suck. – Mark Rogers Jun 13 '15 at 17:19
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    For you, it was the day you have been wronged by their interview, but to them, it was tuesday. Maybe they don't deserve your resent ? – RomainValeri Jun 14 '15 at 18:14
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    If I owned a company, I would want to know that this was going on, so I could stop accepting feeble excuses for not hiring top talent. – user8365 Sep 28 '15 at 12:33

12 Answers 12

126

This was very insulting to me. I had taken vacation time from my current job. I feel either I wasn't a serious candidate or they just lacked common courtesy. What can I do to address the situation?

Unless you are willing to forfeit your chance at the job you are interviewing for, there is little you can do.

It would be ideal if all business folks respected everyone. Unfortunately, not everyone is well-mannered and professional - even when they have an interviewer role.

Thus, you could:

  • Choose to ignore the lack of manners, and continue on with the interview
  • Ask "I see you are busy; should we reschedule the interview for a different time?"
  • Tell these folks how insulting and unprofessional they are acting
  • Simply walk out

Aside from the first, all of these choices have the real possibility that you will be dropped from consideration.

Often, we need to put up with "less than stellar" interview practices, if we want the specific job. This is yet another instance.

I feel if I had done the same it would mean immediate disqualification from the job.

You are almost certainly correct. But it is you who are seeking the job, not they. Right or wrong, their job follows their rules and norms.

As a candidate, you cannot insist that the interviewers must behave professionally. You can only choose to be part of the interview process, or choose not to do so. If their lack of respect bothers you enough - remove them from your list and continue your job search.

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    I agree with all your post, except that last line: "But it is you who are seeking the job, not they." They are seeking a new collaborator, I think they must take the interview as seriously as the candidate. – Getz Jun 11 '15 at 8:15
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    Interviewing is a two-way street: I expect a candidate company to make we want to come work for them as much as they expect me to make them want to hire me. – Blrfl Jun 11 '15 at 12:50
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    I agree that you can't change the behavior of the interviewers. You can, however, scratch that position off the list you were considering. If you really want to, you could also tell them why you're declining the position, but I don't think I'd personally do that unless it were something really egregious. – reirab Jun 11 '15 at 16:05
85

I have been treated with a lack of respect many times in my life. The occasions where I was able to ask for that respect are very few and far between.

You can remove yourself from the situation - end the meeting or interview, decline the job, and optionally tell them you are doing so because of how disrespectful they were to you. You can grit your teeth and remind yourself that this cannot possibly be about you, because they don't know you, it's a reflection on who they are, not on you, and put up with it in the hope of getting the job (or whatever else you want that you are going through some process for.) Optionally, you can tell the person much later about the effect of their behaviour on you emotionally.

What you generally cannot do is, in the moment someone is being intensely rude, point out how rude they are being and ask them to stop. Human nature being what it is, they will usually react poorly and decide that you are the one who is rude.

If it helps you to put up with it, make a backstory that explains the person's behaviour in terms that are not about you (perhaps the phone-call-taker's wife is very ill or mentally fragile right now, perhaps the game-player has given his two-weeks-notice and is leaving tomorrow and thinks it's stupid to get pulled into this interview) and use that interpretation rather than "they think I am a poor candidate and can't even be bothered to really interview me." You may never know which is true, especially if you don't take the job, but you will be happier if you assume the not-about-you version is true. What's more, it almost certainly is. They just met you, they don't know enough to decide that you don't deserve respect.

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    I was already going to upvote when I finished the answer, but I decided I had to upvote right now when I read the delightful example stories. – KRyan Jun 10 '15 at 18:18
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    I agree. If you want the job, keep smiling and bear it without reciprocating. However, if I encountered that kind of attitude from an employee during an interview, It would make me wonder about the type of company and the environment I might find there. – zkent Jun 10 '15 at 18:54
  • "They just met you, they don't know enough to decide that you don't deserve respect." Unless he's already been sat there for ten minutes stomping his feet going "show me respect! you must show me respect!" Although frankly I'd have already ended the interview by then after that. Anyway, I agree with your answer :) – Lightness Races with Monica Jun 11 '15 at 10:31
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    I really like the last paragraph about the backstory. That's what I do most of the times. It helps also in situations outside work: Why doesn't friend x call me back? why hasn't girl y greeted me the last time we met? Instead of grumbling to myself how rude they all are, I like to think more along the lines: they must have a reason for it. It makes your life much easier. – jwsc Jun 11 '15 at 13:21
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    @jwsc: Exactly. Plus, in many cases it really is not about you - and even if it is, you often cannot do anything about it, so pragmatically thinking it's better not to feel it is something personal, unless there are obvious signs. – sleske Sep 28 '15 at 8:34
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Get over it.

They guy talking to his wife probably didn't like the interruption any more than you did. Stuff happens. Sometimes you get interrupted, whether you happen to be interviewing someone or not.

The guy in the group interview clearly didn't want to be there. He probably thought the whole thing was a waste of his time, but was told he had to be there anyway. This most likely has nothing to do with you, so getting insulted by it is just immature. He may have been in the middle of something and resented the mandatory interruption, thinks they don't need a new person in that role, thinks his opinion isn't going to count later anyway, or just really dislikes interviewing people. The others still gave you a interview, and the boss wouldn't have schedule everyone's time to talk to you if he didn't think it was important, so there is really no reason to feel insulted.

Again, get over it.

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    I'm left with the impression that the way you worded your answer sounds a bit impolite (but true words, indeed). Hope you don't take this as an offense. – Marc.2377 Jun 11 '15 at 4:35
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    @Marc.2377: I think you should try not to make the mistake of confusing directness for inherent impoliteness. We don't need smiley emoticons and pandering on everything. In fact, sometimes to make a point clear and hard, those would be counter-productive. – Lightness Races with Monica Jun 11 '15 at 10:32
  • While true, this is very unhelpful in dealing with the very real frustration of not being taken seriously. – Zibbobz Jun 11 '15 at 13:42
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    @zibbobz Hmm, I think very helpful advice for a lot of problems is, "Get over it." Some problems need to be addressed. But others are too trivial to be worth the effort it takes to solve them. Forget it and move on. – Jay Jun 11 '15 at 13:45
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    @OlinLathrop - I agree perfectly with your analysis -- the guy playing with his phone didn't want to be there. In my company, developers are required to regularly sit in on interviews for new developers, and one senior developer in particular (one might call him a prima donna) acts distracted in interviews, seemingly not paying attention to the candidate at all. Yet after the interview, he has some of the best insight into the candidate, noticing things that no one else did. If you can't handle being interviewed by someone like that, think hard about whether or not you can work with him. – Johnny Jun 11 '15 at 15:33
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The interview feels like normal work

What you describe for the interview sounds like perfectly normal work situations. I to not think they are actually behaving rude.

I think it is a good thing when the interview process resembles normal work. They probably do not even plan do make it like this, they just continue how they work otherwise.

Being new in a group feels rough

One interesting point: When entering some social group the first time, very often one has the feeling of the group being rude for a short period.

A good example is starting to ask questions on a new stackexchange site with a different culture one does not yet understand. I had the case that I asked a question that I was sure is nice - and nobody liked it. Some hours later, I understood that it was perfect for sites I knew - and why it made no sense in the new, different site.

Sometimes you are ignored

It's just realistic that your boss just talks to someone on the phone for minutes, in the middle of a discussion with you. While you are sitting at his desk, feeling ignored.
He may get the work done fastest this way - and may expect you trust his judgement, and see that it may be best in this moment to ignore you. Your job is to accept the situation.

Some members of the meeting may not care what you say - currently

In a meeting in which you discuss some topic with more than one person, it's perfectly normal that part of them is barely listening to what you say - because they are there for discussing specific topics that did not come up yet. Or even to listen to such discussions to learn.

Here, you were discussing the topic whether you fit the job with more than one person, so I don't see any problm when someone is inattentive and using his phone.

Try to see it from their side

I understand that the situation is not polite. But ignoring you for minutes while on the phone in a normal work day in not polite either - they just get the work done, and you do not know which part is most important.
There is ongoing normal work, maybe more urgent than your interview.

I think that most of the rudeness you were feeling was related to different interpretations of the same interview situation.
That could make things look rude that were actually just solutions to technical problems from the other perspective. Or make small active rudeness feel like huge rudeness on your perspective.

But then... maybe it was rude indeed!

Maybe it's all different - we were not there watching the details, and maybe the situation was actually meant as rude, other than what I assumed above.

Why that?

Just to watch you coping with this slightly difficult situation!

That is a useful idea as you are put out of the formal/cultural rules of the situation. For example, you could get annoyed, bored or angry, and show or surpress that in many ways.

Some of those ways would be more professional, some less.

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    Good points. However, an interview is not normal work - it obviously revolves around one person, the interviewee. If people do not take that into account, that is not a good sign (though not necessarily a catastrophe). – sleske Sep 28 '15 at 8:37
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    "I to not think they are actually behaving rude." I have to disagree there! Playing with your phone during an interview shows awful contempt, as is having personal conversations - unless there was a family emergency or something. An interview is a formal meeting like any other, and it's quite unprofessional to act that way. – colmde Sep 28 '15 at 12:52
  • @colmde I added an alternative explanation - in which they were intentionally rude indeed. – Volker Siegel Oct 16 '15 at 5:01
  • @sleske it's possible that is was all a constructed situation to see the reactions - then is was intentionally rude; see edit – Volker Siegel Oct 16 '15 at 5:04
  • "However, an interview is not normal work - it obviously revolves around one person, the interviewee." - there are at least two focal points; the interviewee, and the interviewing company. As an interviewee, I can only get a meaningful impression of the company if the interview is as close as possible to normal work. – O. R. Mapper Dec 20 '15 at 12:49
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(...) one of the people in the group was just playing with his smartphone (to me, it was obvious it was not work related)

This is obvious to you but may not represent the reality.

For one, he may have been taking notes, or checking some information he had to check at that time. It is not like he was interrupting you or something (which I presume from your wording).

Then, there are people who need to do something with their hands while listening. I routinely replicate the Mona Lisa painting when listening to people (well, not really, this is more like abstract art with some geometric figures all over the page). I can assure you that I listen extra carefully when doing this and this is actually a signal that I am processing on the fly what someone is telling me. I even had a coworker who jokingly brought in a sheet of paper once to have a decision on the spot.

So while some activities may seem insulting, we are all people and not everyone is a poker player.

  • @JoeStrazzere: i would certainly try to avoid doing something which may be perceived by the candidate as "not paying attention" or similar. Now, if I am the lead interviewer I will be concentrating at him or her and taking notes. If I am one of many I would still try to sit still but I cannot guarantee that my hands do not live their own life while I listen carefully. – WoJ Jun 11 '15 at 11:45
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    I've been a last-minute invitee to several interview panels and, in those cases, usually toss the candidate's CV onto my phone so that I can review it during discussions. – J... Jun 11 '15 at 23:07
  • +1 for referencing poker, my heart "grew 3 sizes", as they say... :D – Radu Murzea Sep 28 '15 at 18:05
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You ask: "What can I do to address this situation?" I can't think of anything productive to say or do to get the offender to change their discourteous behavior in the moment.

But you state that you are very insulted, and you can and should take those feelings into account when deciding your next move. I suggest you ask yourself:

Who is this person, and what does their disrespect mean regarding a potential future at the company?

(tldr: maybe nothing, maybe everything)

Especially at large companies, you might talk to several people throughout the day. Is this person someone with whom you'll hardly ever interact again, like an HR person or a platitude spouting mid-senior manager? Or maybe it's your potential new manager or a coworker whom you'll see everyday.

If you are disrespected by an HR drone during the hiring process, but otherwise think that you'll like your new team and boss, maybe it's not worth letting your temporary emotional reaction govern your career trajectory. Or maybe it is your potential new boss. But even then, a perceived lack of courtesy in an early-stage interview may not be indicative of your day-to-day experiences as a new hire.

So what if, after you've done some analysis, you believe that the lack of respect will be endemic to your everyday experience at the company? You need to use this information during your decision making process. If you have other rosier prospects, dump this one! If you don't have other prospects and really need a job, think about how long you could cope in a toxic environment and what kind of trade-offs would be involved between accepting a crappy job (hoepfully short-term) and continuing the job search. Whatever you do, take the next step with both eyes open.

Although it can often feel highly asymmetrical, remember that interviewing is a two-way street.

  • Good point about trying to think about what the behaviour says about the work environment - that's what matters, after all. – sleske Sep 28 '15 at 8:39
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Plenty of good answers here already and I don't want to repeat them. But just a couple of stray thoughts:

(a) If someone is being rude to you, to point it out and complain is itself rude. As others have pointed out, you can only guess at why these people were acting the way they did. Suppose, as someone suggested, the interviewer who took a phone call from his wife did that because she was just in a near-fatal accident and she is in the hospital, her life hanging by a thread. Do you really want to thunder, "That's very rude! How dare you take a phone call from your wife when you're supposed to be interviewing me!", to have him respond meekly, "I'm sorry. It won't happen again. She just died, and that last sentence I said was to the nurse." Maybe from the side of the conversation you overheard that scenario isn't possible, but I'm sure we could imagine a hundred scenarios that would make his taking the phone call be totally justified.

(b) Complaining that the interviewers are not showing you respect is an almost certain way to not get that job. The odds are that, whatever the real situation, the interviewers think that their behavior is totally justified. Even when people are in the wrong, they tend to rationalize their own behavior. If you attack them, they are likely to go into defense mode and doubly rationalize their own behavior. So whether your complaint is valid or not, THEY will take it as, "This candidate is rude and obnoxious, someone who constantly complains about everything and insults people. Do we want such a person on our team?"

(c) I've seen plenty of Hollywood movies where the meek little guy finally "stands up for himself", tells everyone he's not going to take it anymore, etc, and suddenly everyone says, "Wow, Bob finally stood up for himself" and they all now respect him and honor him and everyone goes away happy, especially Bob. This is fantasy and not how it works in real life. Demanding that people respect you does not make them respect you. If you have power over them -- if you're the dictator of the country and can have them all shot, or less dramatically, if you're the boss and can have them all fired -- they may PRETEND to respect you to avoid the bad consequences, but behind your back they are still cursing you and/or laughing at you. If you have no power over them, if they are extremely rude they will continue to curse and/or laugh at you. If they are reasonably polite people they will mumble apologies, but not because they now respect you, but rather because they now conclude that you are a pathetic whiner who must be treated with kid gloves so he doesn't break down in tears and run to his mommy. Okay, maybe I'm overstating this, exactly how far it goes depends on the details of the situation. I've been in situations at times where someone demanded respect. I am hard pressed to think of an occasion where this actually won them respect and not disdain from those around.

(d) I will repeat what others have said: Complaining will almost certainly cost you the job. Is the emotional satisfaction of yelling at these people worth it? On the other hand, I would certainly take the behavior of interviewers into account when considering if I would accept the job if offered. Others have discussed this at more length so I'll leave it there.

1

There is not much you can do to address the situation, you are at their mercy.

If you have many interviews lined up and many job offers you have the option to reject job offer from company with disrespectful interviewers.

I've noticed rudeness occurs when they are doing "due diligence" of interviewing you because

  • you are not a fit for job

  • they already selected the person for job

  • they are jealous of your high qualifications

Next time you encounter this type of behavior you can POLITELY ask "how well do you think I fit for this position?" ... perhaps they will be attentive and/or give courtesy to end interview early.

But don't discount disrespectful interviewers. I had this type of experience once and was STILL given job offer

  • @JoeStrazzere Of course, I was trying to get to the root of their rudeness so OP doesn't feel so bad, and can still salvage any time that was lost with such people. – Rhonda Jun 10 '15 at 16:35
  • @JoeStrazzere Sure. But sometimes there's a reason for it. Usually, in a situation like this where you have never met these people before, you don't know. – Jay Jun 11 '15 at 13:53
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Yes, and you should. The interview is where they test the candidates so they can see who is the best qualified. It is very important to find someone with good self esteem. A person who is willing to assert himself as an equal is more valuable than a person who is willing to become a doormat just to get the job. Caveat: If you react to disrespect angrily, then this will disqualify you even more than if you had said nothing. Nobody wants someone who allows emotions to get in the way of rational discourse. Nobody wants someone who will bottle up rage and one day it will explode. Nobody wants someone who cannot forgive a slight and has to chastise someone.

When you stand up for yourself in text people may interpret that as whining or being angry even when the words are plain. They are projecting their own self onto the words. When you are in person, you have tone of voice and a smile so that your good intent is clear.

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    Most things I can think to say addressing this behaviour would come across very negatively. All other things would probably come across very negatively. So this doesn't seem like a good solution. Not to mention that companies typically also want people who are respectful, polite and know their place, all of which can be interpreted as lacking in responding like this. – Dukeling Jun 11 '15 at 16:55
  • I am afraid it's one of those situations where just because there is something that may give me catharsis, it won't do me or anyone else any good. One of those things you have to grin and bear it. – Ronnie W Jun 12 '15 at 13:48
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As the other answers already explained, if you confront the interviewer, you're most likely forfeiting your chances at that particular interview. If the interviewer is rude enough not to pay attention to you, it's likely (s)he will not react positively to criticism.

What you could do is to contact your recruiter afterwards, perhaps after the decision will have been made (I assume that there is one, as you're being interviewed by several people) and formally protest. A company that looks for skilled professionals doesn't want to lose good candidates by insulting them during the interview process, so it's possible/likely that they will point this out to the interviewer.

0

If there is at least one decent interviewer in the room, you could try the "new game? is it good?" or "would working for your company always be like this?" approach, of course in a sincere and nice way.

But if there is no chemistry for a little joking, it is probably not a good fit anyway and you should just let it go.

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    Then when it turns out he's not playing a game, you're completely hosed and will feel remarkably stupid. – Lightness Races with Monica Jun 11 '15 at 10:34
  • Judging when joking around would be appropriate with near-strangers could be incredibly difficult, not to mention doing so well enough in a stressful scenario like an interview or given that it's typically less appropriate to joke around in an interview scenario. – Dukeling Jun 11 '15 at 17:04
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Many of the respondents did not answer the question. I'm a former Director of Staffing for 2 major companies, and if I heard of this behavior by an interviewer, who did what was cited without explanation, i.e., home emergency, "call I must take," etc., either by my staff or a line manager, I'd pounce. Therefore, a letter to my level or the highest level HR executive is the only source of relief. I'd never let an interviewer treat me that way. Never. Make sure he/she never forgets.

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    You confused "did not answer the question" for "did not answer the question in the way that I would". This single-sided thinking shows in your own answer. – Lightness Races with Monica Jun 11 '15 at 10:35
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    If I was the boss, and on Monday someone who worked for me said, "We interviewed Mr Smith. Totally unqualified. I went through the motions of the interview and got him out as soon as possible." And then on Tuesday I got a letter from Mr Smith complaining that the interviewer was rude to him and no one treated him with respect, I can't imagine that I would be punishing the interviewers. I'd laugh and throw out the letter. – Jay Jun 11 '15 at 13:48
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    @Jay: Sorry, but to me that sounds very unprofessional, and foolish. Even if Mr Smith is unqualified, he may know Ms Jones and Mr Meier, who are both very qualified, and will now never consider an offer from you because of what they heard about you. If someone is clearly unqualified, then a) your interview preparations suck, and b) you end the interview early and politely inform the applicant that you feel they are not a good fit. – sleske Sep 28 '15 at 8:43
  • @Charlie: It's good to hear from a professional. However, you are not actually answering the question. Consider editing to address what OP can/cannot do in that situation. – sleske Sep 28 '15 at 8:44
  • @sleske I didn't mean that interviewers should be rude to applicants, but that I would not take charges of rudeness against an interviewer very seriously when the applicant did not get the job. People who don't get what they want often make unfounded accusations about unfairness. – Jay Sep 29 '15 at 20:13

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