How to Conduct an Interview When You Secretly Hate Your Job

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women conducting an interview

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Carrie Maldonado
Carrie Maldonado
May 18, 2024 at 9:41AM UTC
There are a lot of downsides to secretly (or not so secretly) hating your job, but one of the worst is interviewing candidates. “They were such a great candidate. I’d hate to ruin their life by bringing them here,” a senior-level manager once told me after meeting the person whom I thought was perfect for the open position. If you find yourself in the position of conducting an interview when you hate your own job, take a deep breath. There are ways to navigate the interview professionally without violating any legal or moral obligations to your employer, the candidate, or yourself.

Your Responsibility to the Company

Let’s talk about your obligation to your employer first. When you can’t stand your boss, your job or even your company, it puts you in a weird and uncomfortable place as an interviewer and employee. I can empathize with wanting to be somewhere—anywhere—else. But I do have one question: Are they paying you for your time and/or work product? If so, then you have a moral AND legal obligation to not do anything against the company’s best interests. In a nutshell, every employee, no matter where they stand on the corporate ladder, is considered an agent of the company and as such owes duties of loyalty to her employers. (This is spelled out in Restatement Third of Agency, a set of principles issued by the American Law Institute that helps clarify the law of agency).
But what if the company truly is a nightmare? Do you still owe them your loyalty? Short answer: Yup. However, in the event that you’ve planned or (hopefully) secured an exit for yourself, perhaps you can recuse yourself from the process. Barring that, if it’s your job to interview candidates for the role, interview them you shall—and to the best of your ability, which includes:
• Reviewing a skills-based job description to ensure it accurately represents the role for which you’re interviewing
• Doing a market comparison on compensation to ensure that what you’re prepared to pay for the role is in alignment with your company’s compensation strategy
• Ensuring you understand and communicate the requirements of the position as well as the working environment
• Asking open-ended, behavior-based questions to determine whether the candidate has successfully performed similar or transferrable functions in the past
• Asking enough questions about the types of environment where a candidate has been most successful to get a clear idea whether she will be able to be successful in your company
• Asking the same questions to each candidate to make sure you are avoiding any discriminatory hiring practices
Doing the above to the best of your ability will go a long way in helping you take your emotion out of the interview process and act with integrity.

Your Responsibility to the Candidate

But, speaking of integrity, what about your moral obligation to the interviewee? Is it fair to bring an innocent bystander aboard your ship of doom? What if, like the client I mentioned earlier, you really feel the interviewee is too good for the company or role? Can you warn her and still be on the right side of the law? Well, yes and no. As long as you’re an employee of the company, it’s not appropriate to say anything negative about your employer to the press, competitors, customers or potential job candidates. However, the goal of any job interview is to identify a good match. This doesn’t always mean hiring the candidate who is best on paper; it means hiring the person who will thrive in the role. This requires you to assess each person you interview for fit and educate her to the best of your ability on the job specifics. Let me give you an example.
Suppose you're conducting interviews for a project manager, who will report first to you and then to "Ed the Jerk." One of the reasons you secretly hate your job is that you feel "Ed the Jerk" (who’s the highest-level manager in the department) is a terrible leader. Your opinion is that he’s a condescending micromanager, doesn’t allow people to think for themselves, and is just generally really difficult to work for. He’s a perfectionist who belittles people, and you wouldn’t wish him on your worst enemy.
There’s no doubt that’s a tough spot to be in. But again, the best course of action is to take your own feelings out of it and do your best to establish fit. Ask open-ended questions such as:
• Tell me about the best boss you’ve ever had and what you liked about them.
• Tell me about your least favorite environment you’ve worked in and what about it didn’t work for you.
• What type and frequency of interaction do you prefer from your boss?
• What do you consider a high-stress situation, and how do you deal with it?
• What are some of your pet peeves when it comes to work?
The answers to these questions and similar ones will give you a good grid for the candidate’s tolerance for the current environment. If, for example, she specifically mentions micromanaging as a pet peeve, you can inquire more about what she considers micromanaging. If she describes "Ed the Jerk" to a tee, you can tactfully say, "You know, Ed has an extremely hands-on approach. My experience is that he’ll expect a status report at the end of every day, and it’s not uncommon for him to request rewrites of the status report if he feels your grammar or punctuation needs improvement. Have you had a boss like that before, and is that something you’ll be comfortable with?
The key here is to be factual and honest. Talk about behaviors, not your interpretation of the behavior, or your assumptions of the reasons. Contrast the above explanation to “Oh, you think your last boss was bad? Wait until you meet Ed the Jerk! He’s horrible! He doesn’t trust anyone, and he’s a total perfectionist, so prepare to do your status reports at least 3 times a day. Trust me, you’d hate it here. I don’t suppose your company is hiring by any chance?”
I’ve informed great candidates they weren’t great fits even for companies I’ve loved. Everybody’s different, so your hell may very well be someone else’s utopia. It’s always a mistake to make assumptions about what the candidate would like during an interview, and projecting your emotions onto them won’t lead to the best hiring decisions.

Your Responsibility to Yourself

Finally, there’s your obligation to yourself, and the fact that you secretly hate your job. What’s up with that? No job is perfect, and we can all go through dry seasons in our career where we’re not as happy as we could be, but working in a job you hate leads to only two places; total burnout, or getting fired. There really aren’t any other options. As a career coach and resume writer, the majority of my clients are in a place they usually describe anywhere from bad to awful to toxic. I’ve discovered that there are some typical drivers of dissatisfaction:
• Terrible boss
• Soul-destroying commute
• A work-life blend that doesn’t work for their life
• Pay or benefits that don't meet their basic requirements
• Little to no opportunity to operate in their gifts or do work about which they are passionate
• Office politics
• A company or manager who doesn’t share their values
• No chance for career growth
Some of the factors on this list might be fixable, and some might not. The question I always ask folks is "If absolutely nothing changes, will you stay?" If the answer is no, then I suggest going for broke and talking to your boss (or your boss’s boss) about your concerns. After all, you’ve got nothing to lose. If people tell me that yes, they will stay even if nothing changes, and even though they hate it, my follow up question is always why. The answer is almost always "It’s better than nothing and/or I can’t do any better."
Now, I suppose this might be true for you; I don’t know your situation or your circumstances. Usually, I hear this from someone who’s been at a company for a long time and enjoys a certain amount of flexibility or freedom. The usual thought pattern is "It took me 15 years to get to work from home on Fridays, and I don’t want to have to wait that long again’ or something like that. I personally tend towards a very optimistic point of view, and, as a coach, I will push back hard on assumptions people are making about their limitations. But at the end of the day, only you can decide when a job you secretly hate is, in fact, better than nothing. I can tell you this: Having once had a job I hated but stayed in because I thought it was better than nothing, and then getting laid off from that job proved to me that nothing was much, much better than the stress, demoralization and constant looking over my shoulder.
So, even if you secretly hate your job and you have to conduct interviews for your company, do your best to find the best candidate for that company. You owe it to yourself to keep your side of the street clean. As the great unknown philosopher once said, “Live [and work] in such a way that if someone spoke badly of you, no one would believe it.”

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