Ask The Headhunter: How to walk out of an abusive job interview

BY Nick Corcodilos  January 14, 2014 at 12:26 PM EDT
If an interviewer is rude or downright abusive, don't be afraid to walk out. You won't be missing any opportunities, advises headhunter Nick Corcodilos. Photo courtesy of  Flickr user BPSUSF

If an interviewer is rude or downright abusive, don’t be afraid to walk out. You won’t be missing any opportunities, advises headhunter Nick Corcodilos. Photo courtesy of Flickr user BPSUSF

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: You have an awesome newsletter and I am glad that I have subscribed to it. I wish more people (especially companies that hire) would read it. Have you ever heard of an interview process where there is more than one interviewer, and the second or third interviewer just sits there and acts bored or is rude the whole time (yawning, etc.)? How would you recommend dealing with it? What is this type of interview? I have found no information on the web about it.

I have never personally had this happen to me, but I have had friends tell me these things have happened to them. One interviewer will ask a question and, when the interviewee attempts to answer, the second or third interviewer will start talking to another interviewer or yawn in what seems like an obvious attempt to throw the interviewee off guard.

I was in the Army some time ago, and I heard that this was frequently done during oral board interviews for promotion. The military I get, but not a company that is supposed to be professional.

Nick Corcodilos: Thanks for your kind words about the newsletter — glad you enjoy it. Believe it or not, there are lots of HR folks who subscribe. They tell me they’re not the “personnel jockeys” I write about. I figure if they keep reading, maybe they’re not!

The situation your friends are experiencing is a variation on the “stress interview,” where an employer will introduce something to stress out the job candidate. The classic move is for the interviewer to start yelling at the applicant, just to see what he’ll do. (Of course, your friends might just be visiting employers that have actual, rude employees or managers in those interviews!)

But it doesn’t matter to me whether we’re talking about rude interviewers or about interviewers who intentionally abuse applicants to test them. My advice is the same: Stop the interview. (See “Raise your standards.”)

Calmly but firmly explain that you’re there to talk shop — to demonstrate how you’ll do the job profitably for the employer. If the interviewers don’t stop their lousy behavior, ask yourself what their real intentions are. Here is what I’d say at that point: “But I don’t work for jerks, or tolerate bad behavior in any business environment, including this interview.”

Then I’d walk out calmly, without raising my voice or being rude in any way — because you’re dealing with jerks. Some readers have suggested that a better response is to try to get the interview back on a good track by offering to show how you’ll do the job, which is what I recommend normally. But in my opinion, an employer that has committed to the “stress interview” as a tactic is too far gone. (My advice to employers: “Don’t conduct junk interviews.”)

If you really want to drive home the point to those interviewers, explain it to them this way:

“If you worked in sales and treated a prospective customer like this, would you be surprised if the prospect got up and walked out? Of course not. You wouldn’t be surprised, either, if your V.P. of sales fired you. Now, what do you think I’m going to tell people in our professional community about my experience here?”

Honest — that’s what I’d do. People who behave like that are either naturally jerks, or they’re “trained” jerks who behave that way because someone told them it was a cool way to interview people, by abusing them. None of it is acceptable.

The minute you convince yourself that it’s acceptable and try to appease your abuser, you become a sucker for an employer that one, has no idea what it’s doing, or two, has just revealed what life will be like if you take a job there. I’ve walked out of meetings like that, and I’ve felt great. I couldn’t care less what “opportunity” I might have missed because dealing with people like that is no opportunity.

A company that tests you to see how you will deal with jerks is risking its reputation. I believe such “techniques” are invented by failed human resources managers who are clueless about how to judge people, so they start “HR consulting practices” and invent goofy tricks that they then “sell” to their clients. And it goes around like an infection.

What kind of salary would you expect an employer to pay you to go to boot camp and be a full-time soldier for them? What kind of salary would you accept to work for a jerk?

Dear readers: Have you ever been abused in a job interview? How? What did you do? How would you advise this reader?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.