After going through the hassles of interviewing, not getting an offer sucks. Your first assumption is you weren't qualified, but that's not always true. You also could have failed any number of hidden tests, some of them very evil.
We've covered the hidden cup of water test before, but I've talked to a lot of hiring managers over the years that have shared even crazier tests they will conduct on applicants. They aren't required to tell you about the test, so you might not even know what's really going on. Here are some of the tests and how to ace them, even if they are stupid and invasive.
The Test: Your Car Has Hidden Secrets
No, this isn't what your car colour reveals about you. The car you drive and what's in plain view answer questions that the employer never asked you. I learned most of these car tests from a major health care IT provider. They will look at type of car you drive and its condition. They will compare that to your previous income. If you're driving a beat-up old bomb, but your resume says you were clearing six figures, something's not adding up. Sure, maybe you're frugal — but if other things are inconsistent, the car raises more questions. They might even ask you why you drive such an old car.
They will look at the interior. Do you have fast food containers all over the place? How you keep your car tells them how keep your cubicle and could preview your work habits. If you've got an electric razor in the car, you don't take the time for proper hygiene. If you smoke, your car screams that habit. Even if you've cleaned the ashtray, that yellow film gets everywhere.
The most "evil" managers tell me they can ask your car questions companies don't ask during a job interview. The bumper stickers are the obvious give away. Answers about your politics, religion and age are all there. Less obvious are things like the magazines inside the car or a car seat. Employers shouldn't ask about your familial status. If you've got a car seat or other child-related items, they know the answer.
Is it evil for them to look in your car? Absolutely. Do some companies do it anyway? Absolutely.
How do they know which car is yours? When you're doing the interview, an administrative assistant goes out and looks at the car. They will keep a watch out for where you park or just look at the visitor parking. The really sneaky assistants give you a parking pass to put on your car. You think it's just a parking pass, but it's also a way of saying "Hey, I'm the person interviewing so check me out!"
The Fix: Clean Your Car
Clean your car out completely. Before you go to the interview, take it to the car wash. If you smoke, get the car detailed. Remove any personal items from view. Stash the car seat in the trunk and take off those bumper stickers. If you can't do all that preparation, rent or borrow a non-descript car for a few hours.
The Test: Your Email Reflects On You And Your Work Habits
We've already talked about how your email name or domain tells your potential employer things about you. They're also looking at the technical aspects of the email. If you're employed, the company is looking at the times you're sending the email. If you immediately respond to a series of emails during a normal workday, you aren't focused on your primary job. The potential company may hold that against you. I learned these tests from some other computer support companies.
The headers on an email tell you where the message was sent from. If you email from your work computer, even if it's a personal email account, those headers will rat you out. That's what managers could be concerned about: you are looking for a job on your employer's time.
Your email headers also suggest inconsistencies in your story or experience. For example, if your resume says you're an Outlook ninja and you're sending emails from Windows Live Mail, that's contradictory. Maybe you even have a legitimate reason for that, but the employer isn't going to ask, they will just assume a problem. That's why it's a hidden test.
The Fix: Email On Personal Time And Technology
Get a Gmail account or your own domain name and keep the account name professional. Employers will use the email account you give them to research your social media profiles. Use a unique email for the job search that's only listed on places you want to be seen, like LinkedIn.
If you respond to emails during the workday, don't respond immediately. Respond just a few times a day (this is a more productive way to approach email anyway). If you're responding quickly, explain why. Don't say "it's slow at work" even if it is. Instead say "I'm taking a late lunch" or "I'm on my break". The best response is "I'm at work right now and I'd be happy to give you a detailed reply after hours". Make sure that the emails you send are consistent with your resume: don't say you're an Apple fan and email from an Android tablet.
The Test: Everyone Is Interviewing You
Your interview is at 11 AM. You walk into a room with someone in a business suit and then you answer questions. That's your interview, right? No. The minute you leave your home until you get back is potentially your interview.
This isn't paranoia, but at a company you'll be working with lots of people. That list includes the employees, but also the vendors and customers. They're all stakeholders in your job and could report back to the hiring manager.
The person most likely to be watching you is that receptionist. You walk up to the desk and say you have a 11 AM interview with John Smith. You sit and wait for Mr. Smith to call you back. That receptionist is going to report back not just your demeanour when introducing yourself. He or she will also report back what you did while you were waiting. Were you bored? Annoyed? Chatting on your mobile phone? Evil managers will purposefully make you wait as a test. They may even have someone in the waiting room talk with you and ask you questions like "What do you know about this company?" or "Where else are you applying?" Your guard is down because you think this is a fellow applicant.
After the interview is just as important as before the interview. Lots of times people will walk outside and call someone to report on how the interview went. You're not thinking about the surrounding people. You should. Those people could report back. They're near the new job's office, so they may know the company.
I've never heard about employers planting eavesdroppers outside the building. I do know bystanders will report back if they overhear something worth sharing. This includes not just outside the building, but coffee shops and restaurants in the area. Many years ago, I was that guy in the other booth that could not help but overhear the guy saying negative stuff about my boss. I didn't want to work with that person, so I told my boss. The guy didn't get the job. I wasn't the decision maker, but I didn't want to a workmate that didn't respect the technical skills and gender of my boss.
The Fix: Watch What You Say Until You're Home
This is easy: you're always on the interview. I like to think of it like a reality show. A hidden camera is watching everything you do. Some producers are going to make you look as dumb as possible. They will take what you say or do out of context, so you want to make sure you give them as little material as possible. Assume everyone is reporting back to the hiring manager. When you're back home, you can do whatever the heck you want because it's your space. Outside of there, watch what you say or do.
The Test: Meal Interviews Aren't Just About Breaking Bread
So let's say the company invites you, and maybe even your significant other, out to dinner as part of the interview process. Score! They will tell you it's about getting to know you a bit better. Nothing's wrong with that. Of course, you'll watch your table manners and see if you act professionally. The interviewers are looking for much more and the evil ones might even set you up a bit. How you act as a customer often indicates how you'll deliver customer service. If you're rude to a server, you'll probably be rude to a customer, too.
The decision about where to eat could even be part of the test. We've given you some ideas about solving this problem, so you're already prepared for that part of the test. Some companies won't give you a choice of where to eat. The evil managers pick a noisy place to see how you'll do under that stress. The really evil managers pick a fast food restaurant so you'll feel uncomfortable in a professional attire while answering "do you want fries with that?"
The most popular evil trick colleagues tell me they have done is tip the server to mess up your order. A former boss would do this to applicants — I hated it. He tried this test on me when I interviewed. You'll ask for the chicken alfredo and they give you the chicken parmesan instead. Ugh. Part of the interview is how you handle problems. Do you speak up? Are you demanding? The real obnoxious interviewers will pay the server to spill something on you. That's a huge risk on the employer's part and could get the server fired, but it happens.
Only the most evil employers start reading into what you ordered and how you season your food. If you season your food without tasting it, you aren't analytical. Guys who order salads are weak and women who order steaks are aggressive. A few managers I know encourage the applicant to drink and might even use a bit of peer pressure to achieve the goal. The phrase "in vino veritas" comes to mind. A tipsy applicant lets their guard down. If company is this evil, consider it a blessing you fail the test.
The Fix: Don't Let Problems Trip You Up
Just like everyone is interviewing you, assume a camera is always recording. No matter what happens at the meal, your potential employer is watching your interactions and reactions. If the server makes a mistake, just assume it's a test. Pass the test by solving the problem, instead of reacting to it.
Keep your food simple. Don't order anything with alcohol. Ever. Check the menu in advance and know what you're going to order. If you have special dietary needs, ask for accommodation in advance. If you can't do it in advance, excuse yourself briefly to go to the restroom. On the way back, speak with a server in private and figure out how they can meet your needs.
Most employers aren't using all these tricks during the interview process. You won't know if they are, so if you want the job, keep your guard up and ace all these tests.
Lifehacker's Evil Week highlights the dark side of life hacking. How you use that knowledge is up to you.