The Return of the “Stress Interview”

I thought that this fad had run its course back in the 80’s but I’ve been wrong before. If you’ve kept up with my posts, you know that I’ve been dancing The Job Search Shuffle as of late. It’s not a great time of the year to be job hunting but with persistence and perhaps the right credentials, one might make some good connections.

I received a phone call from the HR Manager of a new $30M division of a global corporation to whom I had applied for a position via an online service. The new division’s offices and plant were located about 15 miles from my home. It looked like a great opportunity. We set up an interview and I met for two hours each with the HR Manager as well as the General Manager of the division. I was very impressed and I guess that they were too because I received a call one week later to return and interview with one of the big shots from their corporate HQ. Something must have clicked during that interview as well. The official told me that the next step in the process would be for him to counsel with the HR and General Managers. They had all interviewed four prospective candidates and would select one to travel to HQ and meet with even higher-level big shots. I had mixed emotions but generally felt good about the entire process. I knew that they had checked me out rather thoroughly. I had signed releases for certain public information. Some of my references had even notified me that they had been contacted. Everyone I met from the corporation had been very accommodating during these initial interviews. They knew that I was working and we always scheduled things around my availability. That was very nice.

When I returned home the evening after my interview with the corporate honcho, there was message on my answering machine. It was the HR manager. She sounded very excited and requested that I call her back as soon as possible the next morning. I had been selected to travel to their headquarters for final interviews. I had done some research on the corporation prior to even applying for the position and noted that their corporate headquarters was tucked away in a fairly rural area about 100 miles from the nearest large metropolitan area. The place was about 850 miles from my home. I knew that this trip would be all day event and began to rehearse my spiel to the boss to justify taking an unscheduled vacation day.

I called the HR Manager early the next morning. She was still very excited. As we began to discuss to the trip, my anxiety level increased to about DEFCON 3. It seemed that that they wanted me there the very next day or, at the most, the day after that. They really wanted to move on this as quickly as possible. The corporation would arrange and pay for an extremely early morning flight. The tickets would be waiting for me at our local airport. Because of the distance, there would be a connection and I wouldn’t arrive at the destination airport until a little before noon. I was then to pick up a rental car (I had to arrange and pay but would be reimbursed) and drive the 100-mile circuitous route to their rural campus. I was to meet with four or five individuals then drive back to the airport that evening during rush hour and return on a late evening flight. It would probably put me back home by midnight. I had been watching the local weather forecast for that area during the previous few days (just in case I got the call) and noticed that it was horrible – ice storms and snow.

I am not a bad driver and have never even been issued a citation. But I am not young as I used to be and am quite careful and thoughtful about “sticking my neck out” behind the wheel. I am not too proud to admit that I had trepidations about driving through a major metropolitan area that I have never visited before and then making a 200 mile round trip journey on rural roads in potentially bad weather conditions – all in a part of the country that I was unfamiliar with.

In a spirit of full disclosure, I mentioned all of this to the HR Manager. She thought that this would be a rather exciting experience but sensed my apprehension. I opined that I would have thought that the corporation would send someone to meet me at the destination airport and transport me to their campus. “No, they don’t do that.” she replied. She said that she would talk to HQ and see what kind of alternatives could be worked out. I did not hear back from her that day.

When I returned home from work that evening, there was a message on my answering machine. It was the HR Manager. She was withdrawing the offer for the interview at their headquarters campus. They had selected another candidate. She wished me luck.

Talk about an anxiety filled day! I’m sorry that I lost out on the opportunity but my health and safety are much more important. I had calculated that based upon the travel schedule, the four or five execs at the HQ campus would probably each have gotten about a half hour’s piece of me. Perhaps I would have been mobbed. None of this guaranteed that a job offer would be extended. It wasn’t worth it.

I wonder what these corporate executives had in mind. Was this their normal process? No matter. At least they’ll be sure that the candidate who shows up has a lot of guts.

There are two precepts by which I’ve lived my entire working life: I will neither put myself in harm’s way nor go to jail for any company – let alone one that I don’t even work for.

Drive safe!

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