Alanna, I have to say I’ve had several weird job interviews over the years.
I’ve had to hold my breath and talk at the same time because the office space the company was in used to be an animal shelter before it was leased out by a guerilla marketing ad agency, and they just could not get the smell out.
I’ve shadowed a direct-marketing agent walking 5+ miles over the course of 8 hours in heels and a dress in February when I was told that I would be interviewing for an hour at the company’s headquarters for an in-office marketing manager position.
I’ve walked three miles to an interview in 100-degree heat, changed into nice clothes in a Starbucks bathroom, and waited for the hiring manager to meet with me because I did not have the money to pay for the public transportation to get there, only to be told the position was filled by the person they interviewed just an hour before.
I’m sure you have your own list of stories. The moral is, the job search process is long and brutal. But that doesn’t mean it should be. Mostly these types of stories come when the interviewer or interviewee doesn’t have much respect for the other.
But there’s still a line where the interview goes from weird to a horror story. Like this interview I had a couple of weeks ago that was particularly gross.
I applied for a job as a UI Developer at an IT Services company that I’m not going to name and I got an email to schedule an interview pretty quickly. But, in the email, they defined the job as a full-time unpaid internship. Which, I’m still new to this industry so I’m not opposed to the idea of an internship, but why not be upfront about that? That was the first red flag.
I scheduled an interview anyway for a week out and I did my research about the position and the company—as you should—but I also made a list of things to try and watch out for with this internship since it’s unpaid. Basically, I wanted to make sure they weren’t going to try and take advantage of the position. I didn’t want to be fetching coffee, but I also didn’t want to go through the trouble of finding a way to financially make it work to quit my paid full-time job to work for free full-time doing work I really should be paid for.
So, I had this list of questions trying to get to the bottom of what my day-to-day would look like, what team structures looked like, how many interns there would be, if they ever helped interns find permanent placement there or elsewhere. Questions to try and subtly get to the bottom of how this company was really going to treat this position.
The day of the interview I thought this would be my biggest obstacle: trying to walk that delicate line so I didn’t insult them while trying to figure out whether this internship was worth it. But, when the time came, I honestly was so disgusted, I didn’t care enough to ask.
I logged on to the virtual interview and found myself facing 4 men, which I had not been warned about, but didn’t bother me (I ‘m aware of the gender ratios of this field). And then, about 10 minutes into the discussion one them said to me, “I’m not sure a woman would be able to work well within our site aesthetic.”
It was clear the statement was not about whether or not I was actually capable of performing the job they were interviewing me for. As far as I could see, it was a poorly concealed question to his co-workers regarding whether or not they wanted to hire a woman.
I think I sat there in silence for a solid minute before I finally said, “Considering your website is not gendered in any way, I don’t see how my gender could possibly impact my ability to do this job.”
The man’s coworkers had the grace to look embarrassed by his statement. Or maybe it was my response that made them so uncomfortable. But the moment those words came out of his mouth I was no longer interested in the job, so I didn’t really care. However, there was no way I was going to let that man win by finding a way to end the interview early and just leave the call. He was going to have to suffer through talking to me a while longer.
The conversation went on with the usual basic questions: Where do you see yourself in five years? What are your best qualities? Why are you interested in this company/internship?
And then they asked the other question that I personally believe was meant to humiliate me: “The other applicants for this position are younger than you, fresh out of undergrad. Why should we give the job to someone older?”
Honestly, I almost laughed out loud. All four men were at least 10 years older than I am. But I held my tongue. The question, it seemed to me, was not really inquiring about my age, but about my career change and how I learned to code. Why hire a boot camp grad rather than someone who got a 4-year computer science degree right out of high school?
I said they were right, I was likely older than most of their other candidates by 7 years. But that was 7 years of professional experience those other candidates did not have. I know what it means to work a 40-hour a week job and to collaborate with people; I know company and team structures; I have not worked as a developer at an organization, but I have worked closely with them as a Creative. Also, I had a career, an established one, in another field. And I chose to leave it behind. I chose to be a Developer knowing I would have to sacrifice my job, my time, my money, my social life to do it. And I did it anyway. Why hire someone like me over recent grads? Because I am older, more experienced, more mature, and with everything I’ve had to give up to be here you know this is what I want, making me a better investment of your time and money.
And with that, the call was over. It’s been two weeks now and I still feel gross thinking about it. Is this what I should expect in future interviews at other companies too? Because that is distressing.