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When an interview for your dream job goes completely wrong…

A guest blog from one of our Tribe members, Mark. Written a few hours after an interview for his dream job went very wrong.


So yesterday I had a second stage interview which was positioned as “a values-based interview with some competency related questions”.


I’d read all the corporate stuff about being a big happy family, Japanese-owned, heavy on culture, bumper profits in the last 12 months, excellent benefits, values-based and I even found candidate reviews on Glassdoor, which mentioned that the interviews were surprisingly pleasant experiences.


I logged onto Teams, and met the manager & director who would be my line managers (both of them reporting to the group CEO), so a very short chain of command and “a great opportunity to make a name for yourself” as the in-house recruiter had told me. I was excited and nervous, but took a deep breath.


From the word go, the pace of the questions felt like I had stepped into a boxing ring.


Claude Littner from The Apprentice. Picture via BBC

Both interviewers had a very critical and

almost accusatory tone. They sounded as if my entire CV was a complete work of fiction and they were determined to expose me as a fraud. By the 6th or 7th question, my mouth was dry. I realised I was gripping the sides of my chair & my shoulders were locked in a tense shrug.


I could almost hear Claude from the apprentice asking them to tone it down and give me half a chance.


There were pretty much no questions about values, my approach, how I might deal with different situations or difficult colleagues etc. - which was slightly less than ideal as I’d spent hours preparing for exactly this type of values-based discussion. I did my very best and I don’t think I flapped too badly, but no matter how much water I sipped, my tongue still felt like sandpaper.


After 45 minutes, they both thanked me and asked if I had any questions. I had a few questions for them which I’d asked at all my other recent second stage interviews. They seemed irritated by one or two of them, but by this point, I already had my mouse hovering over the ‘leave meeting’ button.


anxious man at computer

I came away from the interview feeling quite shocked, similar to when you’ve had a small bump in your car… and while you know it’s just a piece of metal which can be fixed, but you feel desperately upset and in a state of disbelief. I spent the rest of the day replaying the experience over and over in my mind, torturing myself with where I could’ve done better, wincing at how terribly I felt it had all gone. I was in a tailspin.


I’ve interviewed for 4 roles recently. All of them have had a pre-stage phone call from the in-house recruiter and then a more formal 1 hour teams call with the line managers I’ll be working with. They’ve all been quite collaborative and encouraging experiences. Even with some challenging questions & stumbles I have walked away feeling optimistic.

Yesterday’s was the worst. No room for optimism - it felt more like an interrogation than an interview.


I rarely post things online these days. When I do, I often finish writing, and close the tab without pressing post, ‘why would anyone care what I have to say?’. This interview left me feeling overly anxious, embarrassed, and physically sick.


Writing it all down has genuinely helped me to pick the experience apart, to see it for what it was, and I have come to understand is that whilst I made mistakes, there were also things out of my control and also some important lessons that I can take forward.


Out of my control:

  • the interview was incorrectly pitched as a values-based interview

  • The attitude and interview style of the Manager and Director

The mistakes:

  • The misalignment between my expectations and reality caused a lot of avoidable suffering

  • I built a big cuddly picture of a lovely culture driven corporate with sincerity at its core, so my expectation was a nice interesting chat

The lessons:

red painted love heart and navy blue background
  • I may have prepped for the wrong style of interview but that prep is not lost & will serve me well as I move forwards

  • I revisited the resources on The Returners’ Tribe about building self confidence

  • I need to control my expectations (or excitement) for an opportunity

  • I’ve acknowledged I have time to decide whether I’d want to work with this firm & these people. Probably not.

  • I’m aware that my current work situation is highly toxic and as a result my mental health is in the bin, so I’m being careful not to blend yesterday’s experience with everything else going on in my life, into one giant ball of doom; they are not connected

  • My anxiety response was driven by the feeling that the interview was not going at all well, which means I’m unlikely to get the job, and so I’ll have to remain in my current, utterly horrendous & dire work situation - while this is true, it doesn’t mean my current situation is going to become any worse

  • Always prepare for a formal interview, as it is easier to adapt to a casual chat than the other way around.

  • Life is not a straight line, it’s chaotic and things don’t always go to plan

  • We learn & grow more from our mistakes and failures than we do from our successes

  • The only real failure is to not try at all

The above points read well and some of them may even sound very meaningful or poignant, but they do require some effort to move them from your head to your heart.


You can take them on board as academic concepts, or you can truly believe in your heart that failure, mistakes, upset, angst, worry, stress and disappointment are all key ingredients in striving towards realising your goals, hopes and dreams.


Being prepared with the right tools & mindset will help you navigate even the most challenging or disconcerting experiences.


And I know that with every set back I become better prepared and, I know, that I am one step closer to finding the job that is genuinely right for me.


Lady walking long and winding path

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