I have a few questions about the interview process and what to expect for in future job interviews based on an unpleasant interview experience I had last month. I am a US citizen, but, I currently live abroad in my country of origin. I graduated from an American university just last year, and am residing overseas in order to spend time with my family and relatives before moving back to the US to attend graduate school(recently accepted to one) and find employment.

I gave an interview with a European inspection & certification company in my native country. After the interview, I felt annoyed because I was asked a bunch of confidential questions that hardly related to the company’s purpose. This is how it all started. I received a phone call from an HR manager of the company mentioned. She told me, “I looked at your resume, and I need to schedule an interview with you.” Later in the day, I found out that I was introduced to the company via a referral. The HR manager specifically told me to apply for the inspection administrator position at the company. I agreed and decided to apply because foreign companies in my native country are valued by job seekers due to their supposedly better working conditions than those of other domestic companies. Additionally, I did some research on the company, and it seemed like a decent multinational company to work for.

On the day of the interview, I went to their branch location. At the time of my interview, another applicant was interviewed simultaneously. An interviewer and the HR manager interviewed both of us. However, before the interview, I overheard the HR manager asking the other interviewee, “You plan to move to this neighborhood when you get hired, right?”

We both started out by introducing ourselves and I mentioned that I was currently teaching English. In the course of the interview, the interview panel found out that I was a naturalized US citizen. I told them that I had lived in the US for eleven years as a child and for four years as an undergrad. Then the HR manager said, “Well, I know a lot of people who lived in the US much longer than you did and who have not become US citizens. That is so strange.”

Then moving on, the male interviewer said, “You have such a unique background among the applicants we are interviewing today. All of our other candidates have engineering backgrounds. What made you want to apply to our company as a social sciences major? What do you know about engineering and certification?” I did not know what to say, so I just said based on my background, I was interested in working for a foreign company. That is when I brought up the fact that I was contacted first by HR. He said to me, “Why didn’t you apply to translating companies? Also, if we wanted someone who speaks fluent English, we would be hiring a person with a foreign appearance.” Later, he asked me, “How do you get along with your current coworkers?” I said, “I get along well with them. I cooperate with them.” Then he asked me, “I mean, what do you do with your coworkers OUTSIDE OF work? At our company, everyone’s lives revolve around work.” In relation to my experience as an English instructor, the HR lady asked me, “Do you pay taxes? Are you allowed to live here?” I told them that I have a heritage visa. She asked me, “Are you even allowed to work in this country?

My identity as a foreign citizen of heritage influenced how the interview panel treated me. As I was listening attentively to their questions, the interviewer would stop in the middle of his questions or statements and ask, “Do you understand the language I am speaking in?” The HR manager joined him, saying,” Do you have problems understanding?” I guess, to them, being a foreign national automatically equated to inability in understanding their language.

In the middle of the interview, there was an English "debate" section. The HR lady asked us in accented English a question related to a topic. I said something related to the topic, however, she said, “No, that is not what I asked” in broken English as she gave me a pathetic look. She looked for every turn to discount me, so I assertively answered, “I like to give room for possibility, so…” The other applicant received a free pass on the question. The male interviewer specifically said to me, “We don’t do any of our work in English. Everything is done in the native language.” Okay, then why was there even an English portion in the interview?

Finally, the HR lady asked me, “How many companies did you apply to?” I gave my answer. She further asked, “And, where else? Tell me specifically about those companies.” She demanded clarification. At the end of the interview, the HR lady remarked, “Don’t feel so bad about being asked confidential questions. We were trying to get a taste of your personality.” I felt bitter about being asked confidential questions, especially in front of another job applicant. If I were alone, I wouldn’t have minded as much. I wasn’t the candidate that they wanted, nor did I want to work for them. However, I could not understand why they even bothered to ask questions that deal with private matters to someone they were not interested in hiring.

My Questions:

  • Are job interviews in the US or any other western country conducted on an individual basis or in a small group of 2~5 applicants each?

  • Do interviewers normally ask such personal questions to applicants, especially if there are other applicants at the same time? Is my interview experience the type of experience that I would have to get used to?

  • 6
    Odds of folks reading all of that are, unfortunately, low. You should trim it down to what is actually necessary in order to lose the question.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 6:15
  • Agree with @keshlam. Pl keep only the info. without which the qn absolutely cannot be answered!
    – Dawny33
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 6:18
  • 1
    There is so much going on here I wouldn't even know where to start but analysing a specific situation isn't really what this site is about. Consider joining The Workplace Chat to ask for specific input. Ping me (using @Lilienthal) if you want to join the chatroom as you don't yet have the site reputation for it. All that said, the only answerable question here seems to be "Are group interviews common [in the West]?" and that doesn't require a few pages of exposition.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 6:52
  • 1
    @prusswan: I am the author of the original post. No, it is a country that expects to see foreign nationals with the foreign appearance, not one with the local appearance. It has nothing to do with disliking a certain country.
    – user49694
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 6:54
  • 1
    Then I feel they have been less than professional, and you have done yourself a favor by not getting further involved with them
    – user7230
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 6:57

5 Answers 5


Job interviews are conducted in different ways by different companies, but what you are describing (from an extremely quick scan of the question) would be extremely uncommon.


I'm European myself so I can answer your question a bit more accurately. To clarify, Interviews differ greatly between European countries. However where I'm from they do ask personal questions. Seeing as you are asking about the US and western countries. You should note that American ways are vastly different than European ways. Europeans get more personal and look for the right personality for the job rather than the right expert for the job. The exception to this would be if they were to hire external help. For those instances the company would look exclusively at your skills and expertise. Mainly because you wont be working there for very long.

Note, My answers are based on Europe. The Netherlands to be specific.

Are job interviews in the US or any other western country conducted on an individual basis or in a small group of 2~5 applicants each?

I have not often heard of interviews be done in groups. However I can easily see it be done in some rare cases where they might be double booked or don't think it matters as much. Regardless I find this very strange. We tend to value individualism, so interviewing as a group defeats this purpose. The exception to this would be if you were to apply with multiple people from the same referral company. Even then, it'd happen very rarely and only when you know the other interviewee. (As in 2 employees from company A apply as a group for company B)

•Do interviewers normally ask such personal questions to applicants, especially if there are other applicants at the same time? Is my interview experience the type of experience that I would have to get used to?

Lets start here by answering as if you were alone. Yes, in Europe they will ask for a LOT of personal questions in order to figure out your personality. Also, a lot of interviews will be somewhat informal sometimes and they will try to have a conversation with you. This means they could ask a lot of things that are unrelated towards the job. However it's also known that you can at all times state that you'd rather not talk about those things.

Many of the questions that they have asked you did in my opinion cross the line of what I'd allow them to ask of me. So this is most certainly not normal. Yet some interviewers will ask them regardless. For example, asking if you have other interviews planned for other companies I wouldn't mind answering. I would always say yes, even if I don't. However, to tell them which companies crosses the line for me. They can ask me that AFTER they have hired me(written contract etc etc.), not before. Many of the questions I've read felt like they were looking down on the interviewee and that in it's own is unacceptable.

especially if there are other applicants at the same time?

Because this is rare to begin with I will say that it's simply not done. When you hire from a referral company like that, to get multiple people. Very often they will be seen as temporary forces. Therefor they try to keep things impersonal as they want you for your expertise and not for who you are.


In Europe, the only "group interviews" I have ever seen has been for recent college graduates, i.e. you are in groups of 5-6, "compete" against other teams with presentations, problem solving etc. - but these are positions where many people(perhaps up to 15-20) are hired from a larger pool.

For solo positions, I have never heard of such thing.

As for the personal questions, this is very normal in Europe in contrary to the US. It's really difficult to fire people in many European countries, and in many cases, you'd rather have someone who fits in, but perhaps has a skill-gap you need to cover through training, than someone who doesn't have anything in common or work well with your current staff, but is perhaps very qualified for the position.


This whole experience sounds surreal and strange. All in all, I would characterize it as highly unprofessional. Move on and be glad you don't have to deal with them again. In my view, you are giving this bad experience more importance and worry than it deserves.

Clearly, there is more going on there than you know. My guess .. the HR lady had a preferred candidate and needed a second one for the appearance or policy reasons. In short .. they have the problem, not you.

Regarding your specific questions:

  • Frequently, a single candidate will meet with multiple interviewers at once. Far less often are multiple candidates interviewed together. It is possible that the interviewers want to see how the candidates deal with strangers, groups or uncomfortable situations. More likely, the interview is a formality rather than a serious part of the hiring process.
  • Generally, interviewers want to learn about the candidates as people. In the US, the laws and norms don't allow personal questions unless they are specifically relevant to the job. I don't know about other countries. That said, people do ask illegal or inappropriate questions and you should be prepared to deal with them. There is nothing wrong with calmly responding "I don't think that is relevant to the position."

Regarding the "where else have you applied" questions ... I would decline to answer. It is not their concern, even after they offer you employment or hire you. It is also disrespectful and unprofessional.

Again ... consider yourself fortunate that you don't have to deal with those folks again. If for some reason they call back, politely thank them and decline further interaction.

  • Your second paragraph is exactly what I thought as well. The tone of the questions made it clear that they were not really interested in him as a candidate. Personally I would have put up with about ten minutes of this and then gotten up, stated that I think the company was not a good fit for me and left.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 15:31

I've definitely been in group interview situations. That is not the uncommon part of this. The uncommon-seeming part of this would be conducting part of the interview in a language which is not going to be used in the workplace at all (in the US, at least, if language was important, the entire interview would be conducted in English and if the applicant didn't understand then that would be a good reason not to hire said applicant). Asking for specifics of where else you've applied is also strange, especially when said question is being asked by an actual HR person (I've been asked that question as well but only by managers at smaller businesses who don't know any better), to the point that I would answer "I do not feel that is an appropriate question, so please pardon me for not answering it".

The bottom line, though, is that interviews are as much about you determining if a company is the right fit for you as the other way around. If the HR person is giving you a bad vibe, then don't continue with the interview process. You are better off wasting an extra couple weeks looking for the right job than wasting 6+ months at a company you don't "get".

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