Posted by: Eddie Lakin | February 24, 2009

Lakin: Interviews from Hell

From contributor Eddie Lakin

I’m kind of an old pro at being unemployed.  You kind of have to be in the restaurant industry;  places go out of business pretty often, personalities clash, sometimes you even do something stupid yourself and get sent packing.

So I have a set plan of attack that I tend to stick to when seeking a new job and part of that plan includes going on interviews.  A lot of interviews.  I pretty much go on any interview I can get, even if I’m fairly sure that the job won’t be a good fit.  This is how I got my last job, from which I was laid off in October.  I didn’t think I’d want the job, but I went on the interview anyway.  I was wrong.  I did end up wanting the job and it turned out to be a great fit for me.

Besides, you never know how things are going to work out.  You may make a connection that results in a different job, or bumping into an old friend on the way to the interview.  Maybe the old friend doesn’t have a job for you, but you go grab a beer and catch up.  Whatever.  It’s worth it to go on the interview, if only for the practice.

But sometimes these interviews can just be surreal.

I had an interview with the owner/founder of an up-and-coming quick-service restaurant chain not too long ago that fit this description.  Going in, I thought that this job would’ve been a perfect fit.

I arrived early and checked out the restaurant for a few minutes, and recognized the person with whom I’d be intererviewing when he arrived.  He showed up with lunch, and even before introducing himself, started eating.  Soup.  With chopsticks.  Not a promising start.

He took a few cell-phone calls while eating his soup and interviewing me, and checked his phone for messages at least a dozen times.  Somehow I felt I was not getting his full attention.

The other thing this guy did was ask me questions (the standard textbook interview stuff–what’s your area of weakness?  Tell me about a problem that you solved.  Etc…) but he’d give me about twelve seconds to answer the question before he spat out another one.  It was as if he was using some technique he’d read about to see how candidates function under pressure.  It didn’t really fluster me, but it felt very disrespectful.  Do you want me to answer the question or not?  Do you even care what my response is, or is this just an empty exercise?

The other thing that was weird about this interview was that the guy asked me what other companies I had been interviewing with, and, when I mentioned a couple other well-known national quick-serve chains, he asked me why they hadn’t hired me.  Um…I don’t know.  Why don’t you ask them?

He didn’t want to hear the answers to the other questions, but this one, he fixated on and kept going back to.  He apparently wanted me to spectulate about why these other prospective empl0yers had passed on me.  I eventually stammered something about the current market and the fact that there are a lot of very qualified people available right now, but the whole thing struck me as very strange.

He then asked me about my impressions of the restaurant, and, specifically, asked me to name one thing I’d change to try and improve it.  This is one of those new, modern-feeling chains that accentuates the healthfulness of their food and pushes this concept with a very clean, industrial design.  It was very sleek, with wire shelving everywhere.  But on some of these wire shelves, right out on the floor, they had cases of potato chips–brown cardboard boxes, already ripped open, sticking out into the aisle.

So I cited this as something I’d change.  And the guy looked at me as if I’d suggested he put chicken tartare on his menu.  Hey, did you want me to answer the question or not?  Maybe he was upset that I actually gave him an example of something that needed to be changed.  I don’t know.  And, at that point, I really didn’t care.

Not sure anything productive came out of that interview, other than going through the motion of putting on the old shirt and tie, and answering the stock interview questions.

But….what are you gonna do?  You’ve got to go on interviews, as many as you can get.  At least I got a somewhat entertaining story out of it.


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