I can’t remember hardly anything about the interviews I've had for jobs I’ve landed. Yet I can recall with great detail the circumstances of every awful interview I’ve ever had. I can describe the setting, relay a great deal of the questions, and sometimes even tell you what awful tie they were wearing or crappy piece of coffeeshop art was up on the wall. But the “good” interviews? Nothin.’ Maybe you seasoned staffers can give me your psychoanalysis on this, but in the meantime let me tell you one of those stories.

I was up for a school district administration job, and I was told I was one of 16 people they would be interviewing for it. Now the main reason this interview was particularly awful was because it was a group interview (and not even one that involves testing or work simulation tasks, though those sound bad, too). A panel of four school bigwigs interviewed four people at a time in four different waves. (I like to think they know it as “The Good Ole’ 4x4x4 Interview.”)

Now I don’t know how many millions of different ways there are to do a multiple-person interview, but if what your clients do resembles this at all, you need to stop it immediately.

First of all, when I got the call about getting this interview they were ridiculously specific about how it would go down. “You will be interviewed along with three others. A panel of four people will rotate asking you the questions. There will be 12 questions. Everyone will answer the same questions. We recommend you arrive 30 minutes before the interview. At that time you will receive the list of questions. The whole thing will take 50 to 60 minutes. Do you have any questions?”

Do I have any questions? Yeah, my smartass radar wants to know if you’d consider humans for the job, or if only fellow robots are allowed? Sheesh.

So I show up at least 45 minutes ahead of time and, at the front desk, I’m given a portfolio. Inside are some details about the district, plus the aforementioned 12 questions. I glance at them, but they’re so boilerplate that I don’t bother preparing rote answers. I’m gonna keep it as loose and conversational as possible.

As I sit in the lobby, wearing an uncomfortable monkey suit in mid-summer, I look around the room at my fellow interviewees, who are scratching away answers next to the questions to make sure they get them right. I’m pretty sure I facepalmed. And then I distinctly remember seeing a bunch of preschool kids. One of them looked at me in a “you’re stupid” kind of way. And I knew the kid was right.

Like clockwork, the wave of interviews before us got out. All four are young women. The three with me are all young women. And I’d find out later the four after us are all young women. Then we’re introduced to the position’s supervisor: a smug guy in his mid-20s. Ah-HA! That explains it.

Before the interview begins, they lay down a bunch
more rules. “Each of you will be given a question, to which you’ll have 60 seconds to answer. You’ll hear this noise (“bzzzzzz”) if you’ve gone over. After that question is over, we’ll rotate your order. You cannot repeat an answer that was already given, nor can you directly reference/compare your answer to something else that was said.” Ready? Let’s go:

I’m going to do both of us a favor and skip the interview part, because I’m sure you can guess how it went down based on the rules. But to summarize: the questions were so generic and lame that everyone was meant to answer in a similar way. But since that’s not allowed, getting to go first was a huge advantage. This was as bureaucratic and counter-intuitive an interview as is robotically possible.

My impression of this experience was an extension of my impression of the employer in general. Their hiring practices are lazy and they care very little about the interviewees. They didn’t care to put in the time beforehand to read about us, do background checks, consider our skills/qualifications, and reduce the number of interviewees down.

Instead, by doing it this way, they’re telling us that, as individuals, we don’t warrant one-on-one time. We are to be treated like lambs to the slaughter, but first things first: jump through these hoops. And all this in the name of what? Saving the meager amount of time you’d net from introductions, saying why we’re there and what the job entails, and asking one-sentence questions? Come on …

Now I’m fully expecting some of you to point out examples of good group interview practices. Or maybe some variables that would have made this one better. It’s entirely possible that you’re right, but this experience was my indication that group interviews are a flawed practice. So it’ll take some convincing for me to come around.

Anyway, after it was over, the three girls and I walked out together through long hallways, a giant lobby, and distant parking lot. Being mortal enemies who were asked to pretend we didn’t exist, this meant an uncomfortable silence. Finally I broke it with, “Did that whole process seem really ridiculous to anyone else?” I could see instantly from their elated faces that they were all feeling the exact same thing. And that was a good thing. Because I knew then that they were not robots. And though they have the advantage of longer hair and breasts, we were all mere humans. Unless they were robots from the future. Because future robots have feelings and are self-aware. And it’s really hard to spot them. Crap. I knew there was a reason I didn’t get that job. Damn, future robot girls.

Tags: Business, Group Interviews, Multiple-Person Interviews, Robots, Work simulation tasks