You’ve probably had an interview that went nowhere: one of those interviews that had you wondering what the interviewers could possibly have learned about you that mattered. But even though these experiences can be frustrating, you can learn a great deal about the company’s culture—and why it may not work for you.

What constitutes a bad job interview?
Although various elements can contribute to a bad interview experience, you should be on the lookout for some of the more obvious signs. Here are a few common indications that your interview could be headed south:

  • The questions are inappropriate.
  • The questions lack an objective.
  • Questions about the job are discouraged or answers are vague.

In each of these cases, you can deduce quite a bit about the nature of the company, its management, and its culture.

The questions are inappropriate
In no situation should questions ask for anything other than material that covers your ability to do the job. Questions about your family, your home life, your drinking habits, your musical tastes, or your religion are way out of bounds. Should you be asked questions like that, it could be a serious red flag. Your interviewer, and the company, obviously ignore even the most basic of employment laws and protocols.

If asked about such things, simply state that you would prefer to stick to facts about your ability to do the work. If you are pressured to answer anyway, politely excuse yourself and walk out. You are finished there.

The questions lack an objective
After any interview question, ask yourself, “Why did they ask me that?” In nearly every case, you should be able to deduce the answer. For example, you might be asked, “Why did you apply for this job?” Obviously, they want you to convince them that you are truly interested in working there and to see whether you have researched the company. However, a question about where you attended school will elicit information the interviewer can see on your resume. It’s not an inappropriate question, but it wastes time. Anyone who conducts an interview without preparing questions in advance is showing zero respect for your time and efforts.

Questions about the job are discouraged, or answers are vague
Interviews should be a two-way exchange of information. You should be allowed to ask at least rudimentary questions about the job duties and tasks (though not necessarily about pay; we’ll discuss that issue in another article). If you aren’t encouraged to ask questions, or if it is obvious that the interviewer knows little about the job, consider yourself warned of potential problems ahead.

Job search strategies

Competition in the job market is fierce, and open positions are few. To land a job, you may need to expand the way you market yourself and open yourself up to opportunities you may not have considered before. Find out more in “Winning the job war.”

Where to go from here
Once you’ve made your way through pointless questions and a disorganized interviewer, what should you have learned about the company?

  • Someone somewhere in the organization tolerates mediocrity, or worse, incompetence, and you could be working for that person.
  • There is no leadership from someone knowledgeable in human resources. This lack of HR leadership not only suggests that your interview is unproductive—odds are, no staff members will be able to explain things like how your insurance works or how to apply for Family Medical Leave.
  • If the interviewer is your potential boss, good luck. He or she has already demonstrated poor organizational and time management skills, as well as a blatant disregard for your time and efforts in the interview. Just imagine the scenarios wherein such bad planning turns into an emergency that you have to stay late and fix.

Disaster or opportunity?
My rule of thumb is this: After a disorganized and fruitless interview, run the other way and don’t look back. You have seen the warning signs that point to a poor career move. If your interview was that bad, you’re likely to encounter such gems as low employee morale, a poor sense of mission, inadequate tools and procedures, and unclear goals for individual employees. If you’ve ever worked in such a place, you know how miserable that can be. That incompetent interviewer could actually be doing you a favor by giving you insights that will help you steer clear of trouble.

Interview war stories

Have a bad interview experience you want to share? Post your comment below or send us an e-mail.