After months of dead ends on the job front, I finally received a return email asking to set up an interview. A small London-based events company wanted to have a phone chat after reading my application. Accounting for the 6-hour time difference, we arranged one for the following week and I set to work preparing.
Per everything I’d been taught about interviews in the U.S., I rehearsed my elevator speech into the bathroom mirror and ran through my top strengths and weaknesses on my bike ride to class. I researched the top 50 interview questions and how to nail them and even how to excel at an on-the-phone chat (smile while talking, speak at a slightly slower rate, etc.).
When the day of the interview arrived, I felt prepared with a healthy dose of nervousness.
I expected it to be slightly awkward (since it was a phone call and not face-to-face) but still possible to leave the interviewer with a great idea of my qualifications.
Cue the actual interview, which was a train wreck.
Awkward Interview #1
The interviewer FaceTime Audio called me at our predetermined time. We exchanged the cordial “How are you’s” and “Fine, thank yous” and then he dove right in.
He asked some basics, like how I found the job and why I thought I’d be qualified for the position. Then after he discovered I studied abroad in Leeds, England, and lived in North Dakota to finish my degree, it got personal.
“If I may ask, where do you plan to live when you come across?” he said.
After slight hesitation at the relevance of this question, I answered honestly, “My boyfriend actually lives right outside of London, so I will be living with him.”
Now looking back, it was a poor decision to disclose this information. At the time I thought: It’s a good thing I have a place to live already… it shows I’ve thought about this and have a plan-of-action and he won’t have to wait for me to find housing or help me with it. Plus, maybe he will think that my relationship makes me more serious about remaining in the U.K.
Silly me sat there smiling into the phone until he said, “Well, just so you know, I’ve been burned twice before by people coming across to live with a partner and it not working out.”
My stomach sank as survival instinct kicked in and I began rambling, “I’m not coming across to be with him, though it is a perk. If it didn’t work out with him and I had the position with you, I would simply find different housing. It has just happened this way for now, but my main goal is to secure a job in England.”
And that was pretty much the end of our conversation. I hung up, feeling ill, and face-palmed myself for saying anything about having a boyfriend at all.
The next day after stressing over that stupid answer all night, I emailed the interviewer to say I hoped his past experiences would not dissuade him from hiring me. I hit send feeling no relief and knowing that my qualifications and personality were not going to count on this one.
Needless to say, perhaps, but I did not get that job. He emailed me back explaining how I just wasn’t the right fit at this time.
What I Learned
Though it cannot be proven, I’m sure my answer to his unnecessary question had some impact on whether or not I would move into the next round of interviews. Interviewers are not robots, and every word you say in an interview counts.
1. U.K. Interviewers Are More Informal
This may not be true across the board, but from my encounters, U.K. recruiters truly do want to know if they will like working with you. Your fit for the company’s current employees is a much bigger factor than in the U.S., where even small-company interviews follow more rigid protocols.
2. Skype Interview Wherever Possible
In this instance, the interviewer could not see my body language (nor I his) and had only my words to trust and judge. Though Skype is still not a truly face-to-face interview, it at least lets a recruiter read your facial expressions and helps you to gauge theirs as well.
3. Evade Unethical Questions
To this day, I still have not checked to see if this was a borderline unethical question in the United Kingdom. I know that it was not relevant to my experience or qualification for the job, but I also can’t fault the interviewer for wanting to know if I had sincerely looked into relocating.
In truth, I just wasn’t prepared to answer any personal questions and the words fell out of my mouth before I thought about their consequences.
4. Stay Honest
Had I said, “I will be living with a friend who is just outside of London,” who knows if the interview would have gone better. After some long, hard reflections on whether I should have falsified that tiny detail, I decided that honestly was the best route.
If I had moved over and worked for the company, gotten to know my coworkers and then been asked about my living situation only for them to find that I did, in fact, live with my boyfriend and not just a friend, then my white lie could turn into a red flag for them. I would never want to start a job with deception.
Really, instead of answering so truthfully, I should have said that I had a place to live right outside of London and left it at that.
And if he did make a snap rejection based on bad past experiences, then that is his decision (probably a subconscious one). Perhaps it worked out best for me to not work for a company that does make decisions from that type of info instead of my character. And maybe I just truly wasn’t qualified for the job.
I have not been asked about living situations in an interview since, but at least I know I am prepared if they do arise.
Read about my second awkward interview experience here.
Have you had any awkward experiences during interviews? Share them below and let’s have a laugh together 🙂
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