my interviewer fell asleep — repeatedly — during our interview

A reader writes:

I applied for a very promising job opening at a startup company and had my initial interview this week with the recruiter and one of the managers. They seemed to be very pleased with me, and the manager left me with the recruiter to talk about compensation, where he told me they felt lucky I had come along. I was told to come back today for a final interview with the CEO.

However, when I arrived, I was told I would be speaking to the new recruitment manager instead, who had just come on board this week (the initial recruiter now reports to him). After some initial niceties, the recruitment manager asked me some standard questions, but despite my enthusiastic answers, he nodded off! At first I thought it was just a lapse, and that he must’ve just had a rough day or a late night, but he proceeded to nod off after asking every question! Literally fell asleep — he would ask his question, then nod and listen as I answered, and then after one of those nods, his neck would drop, and he would no longer acknowledging my points, leading me to believe he was sleeping. Whenever this happened, I would finish my thought and silently wait for him to snap back to consciousness, which would happen anywhere between a few seconds after I stopped talking up to a full minute or two later.

I felt too intimidated and anxious to call him out on it, however gently, since the plans had changed and he was now in charge of my professional fate. When the interview ended, he asked me to wait in the lobby while he provided feedback to the hiring team and that I would speak with the CEO after.

About 10 minutes, the initial recruiter came out to greet me and said that the interview with the CEO would be the following week at the earliest, as there were two other candidates up for interviews for the rest of the week and the earliest he could provide me with feedback was the next week.

What should I have done? Should I have called out the hiring manager for nodding off? Was it my failing that I couldn’t keep him awake during my interview? Should I tell someone? I already have a bad feeling I’m not going to get this job, but I need advice on how to handle this odd behavior– now and in the future.

I’m no sleep expert, but nodding off after every single questions sounds like more than sleepiness — it sounds like a possible disorder.

And no, this wasn’t because of you. Someone falling asleep in an interview isn’t doing it because the candidate is boring — they’re doing it because something else is going on (sleep disorder, extreme and uncontrollable fatigue, or perhaps in rare cases incredible rudeness).

As for what to do now, I don’t think there’s much you can do about it. Interviewers can wrongly derail the hiring process at any point in a variety of ways — asking the wrong questions, misunderstanding the attributes and skills needed to succeed in the role, having bad judgment, etc. (And now I guess we can add falling asleep to that list too.) You can’t really do anything about any of those those things; you just don’t have that type of control over how a hiring process plays out.

But I also wouldn’t assume that you’re out of the running just because of this. You might not be — who knows.

That said … If I were in your shoes, I’d say something to the employer. Not in an attempt to impact your candidacy, but because if you took the time to come in for an interview and the interviewer slept through it, it’s reasonable to point out that you basically didn’t have the meeting. Plus, there might be a genuine problem that someone needs to act on. So I’d email or call the hiring manager who you met with previously and say something like, “I feel awkward about saying this, but when I met with Bob, he fell asleep repeatedly in our interview. I hope he’s okay, and I felt I needed to tell someone.” (You’re phrasing this not as a complaint, but as a genuine concern about Bob.)

The hiring manager is presumably going to be shocked, and will hopefully address it internally from there.

After that, that’s about all you can do. From there, I’d put it out of your mind (as you should with any interview rather than agonizing over whether it’s going to lead to an offer) and let them get back in touch if they decide to move forward.

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