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Your Worst Interview Story

Grantland, a site that’s mostly about sports and sometimes about life, has a series called Readers’ Revenge where they share stories from their readers around a common topic – they recently tackled the worst interview stories [3]. There are a few gems in there and while half of them are about drug testing, they do share some pretty ridiculous stories that almost seem unbelievable. At least one is probably more urban myth than reality (the one where the drug testee puts blue toilet water in the test).

I personally never had a bad interview as the person being interviewed, I chalk that up to interviewing with very boring companies. It’s hard to get interesting interviews when it’s for a white collar software job at an enormous defense company. They’re well versed on the intricacies of harassment, taboo questions, and all the other mistakes that create these great interviews. I was part of a really bad interview in which the candidate was clearly unqualified for the job. The job was that of a software developer and the resume looked good, he came well recommended on a personal level, and I genuinely felt bad for him because I liked the guy. That made everything worse.

The team was responsible for delivering a standalone workflow application that used a Microsoft SQL server. So you needed to know SQL, which is the query language used to interface with the database. It’s not hard to learn once you get the basics and the tricky part, as is always the case with database applications, is optimizing it. There aren’t really any of the tricky things that can trip you up with other languages – no objects, no inheritance, etc. The guy had SQL on his resume in his list of skills, so we threw him a softball of a question – we told him we had two tables, something like a table that had user credentials (username, id, password, user level, active, etc.) and a table of user information (first name, last name, extension, department, etc.) and we wanted him to give us a query that gave us the first and last names of everyone in the system.

It’s a query and we just wanted him to get close. We liked the guy so it really became a ten minute instruction in SQL, which he admitted later that he hadn’t spent a ton of time on. The worst part was that the other interviewer in there with me is the nicest guy in the world but an absolute SQL beast (I don’t know if you still read this site but Geoff, but I’m talking about you) – so you could see even he was getting frustrated.

That interview was long… suffice it to say he didn’t get the job.

So… what’s your worst interview story?

(Photo: stevendepolo [4])