Job interviews are stressful—trying to sell yourself while masking your nerves with a professional, yet genuine, charm is no easy feat. But sometimes, you go on an interview that throws standard interview etiquette out the window, and leaves you wondering, “What on earth just happened?”
My weirdest interview took place a few months after I graduated from college—I was 21 and eager to put my communications degree to work. I felt like I applied to any and every job in New York City that involved communications, even in the smallest capacity.
I found this particular job on Craigslist (red flag #1, in retrospect). It was a start-up that specialized in connecting industry experts with companies in need of the experts’ skill sets and knowledge…or something like that. I wasn’t too clear on what the company actually did walking into the interview. I was young and hungry for a job that paid.
I dressed in my go-to interview outfit: a sleek pencil skirt, silk blouse, and heels, all black. I found my way to the building off 6th Avenue, which happened to be catty-corner from the building where I held my very first internship a few summers earlier.
The office itself was in the loft of the building. And by office, I mean one medium-sized room humming with the heat of about 15 computer workstations surrounding a mini-fridge in the center, and a smaller room connected to it. The president of the company greeted me at the door. He was wearing gym shorts and a t-shirt. I towered over him in my heels, feeling overdressed and out of place.
He led me into the smaller room to conduct our interview, and immediately asked me if I wanted a beer (followed hastily by “You are 21, right?”). I was in shock. I have never heard of alcohol in the workplace, let alone on interviews! I decided it must be a test. “No thank you,” I responded politely.
We moved on to chatting about the company and its culture. He was looking for someone who would be a natural fit and could comfortably work with the existing team. I spent a few minutes telling him about all the teams I’ve worked on throughout college and in my internships—I could work with anyone!
And then my interviewer asked me to curse.
“Excuse me?” I asked, thinking there was no way I heard that correctly.
“Curse. Say something. Drop the F-bomb.”
Was this another test? If you’ve ever worked with me, you’ll know I don’t use profanity at work. I felt my cheeks heating up.
“You’re turning red. I need to know you’ll fit in with my team. Say it!,” the interviewer said.
So, against my better judgment, I dropped the world’s most feeble F-bomb.
“Great! Now, how about that beer. Grab me one too, the watermelon kind.”
The interview was getting weirder by the moment. Flustered from the cursing conversation, I grabbed two beers from the mini-fridge. The interviewer held his out and said cheers, and proceeded to let me know its bad luck to not make eye contact when clinking drinks.
I wish I could say I ran as fast and far away from that office as I could, but I did not. It only got weirder. The interviewer suggested we take a tour of the office (“Bring your beer!”). Well, in addition to the small room and medium room, the “office” had rooftop access.
There I was, in New York City, on a rooftop, drinking a watermelon beer at 11 am, on an interview. I could almost hear the laugh track in the background. That’s when I proceeded to tell the interviewer his website had a typo and made me doubt whether this company was legitimate. He laughed. “I like your honesty,” he said.
We talked for a few more minutes about work hours, perks (including watermelon beer), and my commute from New Jersey before wrapping our interview up. He walked me to the door and said I would be hearing from him soon. He did follow up, but I turned down that second interview.
I laugh about it now. I’ve participated in my share of in-office happy hours, and can appreciate the culture a start-up offers. But I also wouldn’t hesitate to walk out the moment an interviewer asks me to break my personal code. No job is worth compromising your principles and values for, no matter how young or old you are.