How to flub a job interview

As many of my Twitter followers will know, I interviewed for a job on Monday afternoon and was very excited about the opportunity.  I was not chosen to progress to the next round of interviewing and I’m somewhat crushed by that.  The painful part is the reason I was given for the rejection.  But 1st, some background.

The target organisation is a popular Australian company, established by 3 friends around 10 years ago, and does at least 90% of it’s business Internet facing.  It’s grown quite large since then, but they claim to have kept the DotCom feel to the organisation and placed a large emphasis on their “Values” during the interview.  The values are: Honesty, Ownership, Teamwork, and Passion.  I was specifically instructed to address all of these values in my answers during the interview, and I thought I did rather well.  Keep in mind here, that to even be considered for interviewing I was required to have had 8+ years of serious Systems Engineering experience on Internet facing and corporate systems and had to pass the qualifying interview from the recruiter.

The point of contention arose from one of those “Do you have any questions for us?” moments.  I asked what the policy or position was regarding discussing my prospective new employer and broad details of day-to-day activities on “new media” such as blogs, FaceBook, Twitter, etc.  As this is evidently where it all went wrong…

Their 1st response was to presume that I wanted to spend my day blogging or tweeting, followed very quickly by repeated concerns regarding client confidentiality, trade secrets, product launch schedules and similar.  I was staggered and tried in vain to steer the conversation back to the Honesty, Ownership and Passion values they had just been espousing.

  • Honesty: blogging, etc giving a genuine and human face to the organisation
  • Ownership: admitting mistakes, taking credit, and being proud of my work
  • Passion: exhibiting pride in my employer, our work, enticing more clients to the sites, etc

After some further discussion This is where I left it and felt the gaff had been resolved, but no.  The recruiter’s feedback to me was that they thought I was a security risk, wouldn’t fit well with the team (of 3), and would be “troublesome to manage”.  I don’t know of anyone who could have worked in the corporate, government, or financial spaces without learning a few things about non-disclosure agreements and keeping secrets.  I have to seriously wonder what has happened in the past to have them respond this way…

And this is where I don’t get it: for a dotcom-survivor they just don’t understand Web2.0.  There are a multitude of examples where staff can provide the human element without revealing too much information, and generating real interest in the organisation and it’s people.  Hey, even Robert Scoble abrasive as he can be, did wonders for Microsoft’s public image in the years he was there.  And *many* finer examples are still coming out of the Microsoft wood-work!  Surely the potential positives that come from the efforts of honest, hard-working, passionate staff connecting with clients in a meaningful way are obvious…?

Perhaps I’m missing something obvious?  Please, can someone clue me up as it’s driving me insane.  This is precisely the response I would expect from my current employer which is still largely stuck in the 70s and doesn’t understand much beyond web-sites as extended newspaper ads.  But they are actually trying I guess…

Anyway, the process of writing this has been therapeutic for me.  I would dearly love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to comment here or check How to contact me if you would like to make more private comments.

Thanks for listening, and Have Fun!

[Update: Oh, and none of the interviewers I dealt with seem to exist on LinkedIn, they have completely locked off their FaceBook profiles, no blogs, and Google is not their friend. Then again, that goes for all the staff we have interviewed for positions at my current employer… Am I wrong for expecting guru-level IT staff to have an Internet presence?]


9 responses to “How to flub a job interview”

  1. Hey Froosh,

    I think it’s fair to say that the company missed an opportunity, and that you didn’t really do anything wrong (as far as I can see).

    If they’re an Internet-oriented business then it’s fairly reasonable to assume they’ll be comfortable with their staff also using the internet for any number of purposes.

    There’s no greater risk to the vast majority of businesses from someone who uses Twitter/Facebook/etc. Not revealing trade secrets, non-public business dealings, etc is just common sense. To claim (without any supporting evidence) that someone with many years of experience is going to release some sort of information is downright insulting.

    Then again, perhaps I’m just biased given that I got my current position through a recruiter on Twitter, and that both the CTO and our Tech Team Lead are reasonably active on Twitter day-to-day.

    Here’s hoping you have better luck with a far better company!

  2. I work for a large Australian retailer that really doesn’t get the web, be that web 1.0 or 2.0! Their webpage is a shambles. Their IT policies mean that you are unable to access any websites other than the company one and one other that is password protected. No checking out the opposition. No product knowledge availability. It is very frustrating. Sounds like it is good that you didn’t get this job. Hope something else bigger and better comes up soon.

  3. I reckon, that despite your keenness, you ended up with the right outcome. I think your approach was right, the questions were good and your thinking on them was in the right place.

    Australian companies seem not to get the web yet – don’t ask why, it’s a puzzle to me, too.

    If you’ve got access to an email for any of the founders, flick them an email expressing your concerns – from the perspective of where they should be, the recruiters and everything else. At the very least, they’ll be aware of how some of their candidates will be feeling.

  4. I think it was a big mistake. No matter what their answer was to your question, it didn’t change your desire to work there. So why ask the question in the interviewing stage? Couldn’t you have pressed the point after you got the job?

    Now if their response was to frown upon it, and that changes your enthusiasm for the place – well then it really doesn’t matter that they didn’t like you because of the question, now does it?

    I think it was a poorly timed question if you’re upset about them not liking you at this point. Learn from it.

    I know if it were me, I’d be nervous about not having control about what it published out there. I think your point about being transparent is a decent one – but you would have to gain their trust before they feel comfortable being blogged about.

    I really am left scratching my head and asking – what was the point of the question?

    To the employer, the thought of you blogging about them is really very similar to leaving an interview, calling a friend on the cell phone when you are in the lobby and giving them the low-down. It’s just poor form.

    Secure the job first.

  5. Thanks Treeman, this is fantastic feedback and absolutely correct. It has taken me some time to realise it and think it through myself, so I’m thrilled to have your input!

    I hope I have learned from the exercise and will endeavour to not make the same mistakes again. I think I made two mistakes here: 1st by allowing my excitement and over-enthusiasm to prompt me to ask ill-considered questions during interviews, and 2nd by immediately dumping my emotional and again ill-considered opinions out for all to see.

    I don’t think either of these actions was wrong as such, but I definitely did not give them the consideration they deserve. I would probably ask a similar question during a future interview, but will carefully evaluate my intentions and the results I expect. I would probably blog about it next time too, but only after cooling down a little. 🙂 I’m … satisfied … with my post here: I’m not naming and shaming directly, but there is enough information to identify the organisation; it is absolutely how I felt at the time, it was an excellent release of tension, it remains visible here as part of who I am, and (hopefully) documents my personal growth and understanding.

  6. Gentle friend, I think there are two questions you need to ask.

    Who am I?
    What do I want?

    If you ask and answer these questions honestly and with compassion whenever a situation like this arises, then the reasons for your current and past predicaments will begin to unfold.

    This is not an answer; it’s a lifelong process based on and old prayer.

    “Lord give me the strength to live with things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

    Now, let me suggest another possible approach based on a passage from Sun Tzu,s Art Of War, Know thyself, know thy enemy.

    Look Out For The Warning Bells
    Warning Bell 1: You should have realise this company was far from the .Com CEO rollerblading down the corridor type culture from the very fact they went through a recruitment company. Why would you pay 10% plus of an annual salary to another company to collect resume’s and forward candidates for a job like the one you thought you were applying for. Company cultures start at the top and it would seem a bit odd that there was no one in the company who could recommend someone for the job, good companies rarely need to advertise for staff and almost never use recruitment agencies.

    Warning Bell 2: The Interview process reeks of HR paranoia and ass covering; sorry my friend but this alone would have a thrown up a major “Bull Shit Level 1 Alert” straight away if I was you.

    From the above we move back to the questions “who am I” and “What do I want” because if you want the job (the real job, not the one you thought you were applying for) then you need to ask yourself if what you need to do to get and keep this job is worth it.

    It never fails to amaze me at how overly complex the employer/employee relationship has become. I have skills and the ability to achieve or contribute to business objectives and I want money. A company needs someone with skills and the ability to achieve or contribute to their business objectives and has money. I exchange my skills and so on for their money, the end, anything else is strictly “Nice To Have”.

    In ending I can say with no reservation that these clowns have missed out big time on an asset that would have exponentially expanded the value of their company, I sincerely hope they found the employee they were looking for.


    Hows your French and Arabic these days 😉

  7. Oh dear! I feel your pain I really do…

    Unfortunately, we live in a country which lives in the stone ages in respect to using resources like Twitter for example, to enhance their business. It sounds like you are someone who thinks outside the square, can see potential where no one else can and also understands that by providing a human face to a company, it promotes interest and loyalty, two ingredients necessary for business growth.

    I have seen this many times in companies which are either Aussie or are the Australian version of U.S companies but run by locals. Small thinking and short sightedness is what you encountered. You , on the other hand, have perfect 20/20 vision. Don’t let anyone block that vision.