My increasingly gray head of hair is an indicator of many things. In this case, it’s a career that has spanned museums, auto racing, and software. I also worked at Burger King as a teenager, but I digress.
Along the way, I experienced countless interviews. Early in my career, they absolutely terrified me. My philosophy has always been to run towards what scares me. So I embraced the intimidating interview process, to spark growth and confidence.
Every job interview has helped shape me. I’ve experienced the disappointment of not getting a job, and the highs of getting an offer. Overall, I have had exceptionally positive experiences. However, there is always a but. I’ve also had some really weird experiences. And that’s what this post is about. Please enjoy my Top 5 unique job interviews.
- Drive 6 hours in one day
I once interviewed with a massive, global agency in Chicago. I had done several phone interviews, so the next step was for me to drive from Indy to Chicago for the in-person interview. We set the date and time and I arrived early. When I checked in at the front desk, no one, and I mean no one, knew what was going on. My recruiter was AWOL, so people scrambled and I found myself in an interview with two people that clearly had better things to do. For all I know, they were extras. It was awkward, uncomfortable, and I had to drive the entire meeting. I walked out and bought myself dessert. If I drank, it would have been bourbon.
Lesson learned: take control
Not everyone knows how to interview (or in this case, wants to interview) – so sometimes you have to drive the experience and communicate your narrative. And look for a silver lining.
- Grumpy CEO
I once flew from the US to Europe to interview for a CMO role. I was there 48 hours, and the interview started as soon as I landed. I mostly dealt with the COO and CFO who were wonderful. The night of the first day, we all went to dinner and were joined by the CEO. This was a chance for me to meet him, but to also talk strategy with the core exec team. The CEO ignored me the entire dinner. He then gave me an incredibly awkward ride back to the hotel where I had to make small talk (not my best skill). The next day he barely spoke to me. I took the rest of the interviews seriously and professionally, but knew it was all doomed.
Lesson learned: be picky
As an exec, you HAVE to click with the CEO. You should also be highly selective of who your boss is. And, research company culture ahead of flying to another continent. I at least got some good airline miles.
- Bait and switch
I once interviewed to lead digital for a tech company and it went exceptionally well. I met my soon-to-be boss for coffee and she went through a verbal offer, benefits, and start date. I left the meeting sufficiently caffeinated and thrilled. But when I got home, I checked my email and had a rejection letter from the company! I reached out to the woman, because I thought it was a system error, and she never responded to me. I got ghosted. She got fired a few months later.
Lesson learned: you deserve a scone
I should have ordered a scone with the coffee. Seriously, the only lesson I can think of is to persevere.
Article: 15 Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer
- Let’s be blunt
In an interview to become a CMO, I was talking to the CRO and COO about marketing strategy and alignment to sales. Halfway through the interview, the CRO interrupts me to state: “I am struggling to see what is special about you.” I laughed, because I genuinely appreciate awkward moments and responded with something about humility, etc. I finished the interview knowing this was not the company for me and that I was definitely not the CMO for them.
Lesson learned: no one else is going to be your hype man
Since then, I have been more direct about my accomplishments and speak with more confidence about myself (which I’m not particularly comfortable doing). I also am more analytical about assessing exec relationships, especially with a CRO – the CMO/CRO relationship is so critical.
Article: How to survive a hostile interview
- Move to Saudi Arabia
I was recruited by a Saudi Arabian company to be a leader for a new museum opening in Saudi Arabia. They offered insane benefits like a tax free salary and housing, a travel stipend, and much more. I flew to Houston with an open mind, sense of curiosity, and very little information.. I walked into a room filled with a panel of US, British, and Saudi Arabian men, grilling me for hours. It was not advertised in that manner and it was one of the toughest interviews of my career. Three months later (with minimal communication), I got a packet in the mail with a job offer and everything I needed to know to emigrate. I respectfully declined.
Lesson learned: take a chance
Take a leap. This is why I keep an open mind and often interview (even if I am perfectly content in a current role). This panel session prepared me for more formal interviews (especially with larger groups) and resembled more of a board meeting than an interview. I am thankful for this, because it stretched me.
Interviews no longer intimidate me. I no longer get nervous. And although I always make sure I am prepared, I no longer have the anxiety that would frequently affect my confidence. My advice to anyone experiencing this today?
- Run towards your fear
- Know your value and speak to it
- Pick the people you want to work alongside
- Be open to the unexpected
- A sense of humor is imperative
- Don’t take it personally
- And don’t hold a grudge – it’s a small world
I can’t be the only one that has experienced weird interviews like this. I’d love to hear yours.