Diane’s War Story: Interrupted Interview

Diane Loviglio, User Experience Researcher at Mozilla, has a story that reminds us our participants are part of larger systems that we don’t have insight into when we’re recruiting them.

We walk down a nondescript hallway, me and my team’s designer and engineer. It’s the first time the three of us have been in the field together. I’m confident and excited, but also a little nervous that our engineer will start asking off-topic questions like “How many lines of code did that take?” during the interview. We find the door of the gaming studio and we walk inside – straight into the kitchen. The walls are brightly painted, the plan is open, the kitchen is right in front of us, but there’s no reception area in sight. So now the three of us are just standing in the hustle and bustle of the studio and aren’t sure where to go next. We felt a little awkward. Eventually, I started to text our host, but she appeared before I finished typing the message.

Melissa (that’s what I’ll call her) warmly greets us. She had high energy, but you could also tell things were a little chaotic that day. She walks us 500 feet to one of their two conference rooms and then she goes to get her engineering counterpart, who we would also be talking to for the next 90 minutes.

We set up the Flip video camera and unpacked our notebooks and paper and markers for the drawing exercise at the end. Mike (that’s what I’ll call him) comes in with Melissa. He’s much more reserved than she is, which was expected, but we get started and things are going great. They are playing off each other well – they both had different perspectives on the subject we were studying and that was coming out very well in the interview.

55 minutes into the session, we are completely interrupted by an angry guy slamming the door open and barging into our conference room. He knew we were doing a private interview in there, because the walls were glass, but he barged in just the same. He starts yelling at Melissa and Mike – as if we wouldn’t pay attention unless he used his outdoor voice – “we’re meeting with [important company name] next door – let’s go!” Who the hell was this guy? And how obnoxious for him to walk in on our meeting without knocking or excusing himself. He didn’t even make eye contact with us.

Melissa was taken aback. This other meeting wasn’t even on her schedule, so she was a little confused, but she tried to handle it and excused herself to go talk to this lunatic. I stopped the Flip, and without prying into the details, tried to get a read on how important this meeting was and if we should start packing up to go. Mike just sat there silently, as if this behavior was completely normal and things would pass over soon. He didn’t have any kind of reaction to the incident at all. We told him we could finish this at another time if Melissa wasn’t free – maybe over the phone or email. He just shrugged. Melissa walked back into our formerly private room, was very apologetic and said that we could continue, but she was obviously distracted. She was under the impression that we would just be another 5 minutes and I told her that this was actually a 90 minute interview so we still had 30 minutes to go, but we could hurry and wrap it up in 15. She paused for a moment, and we thought “Okay, that’s our cue. We’ll leave and let you be.” But, Melissa said that Mike wasn’t needed in the meeting after all, and he offered to stay and talk with us. So we plopped back down and said, “Oh. That would be great.” Melissa apologized again for not realizing how long our meeting was supposed to be and promised to reply to questions over email instead. I gave her a hug as she left the room. She looked like she needed one. And, I gave her that sincere “Gosh, I hope you don’t get fired today” thank you. She left and went into the conference room adjacent to us and we heard the call begin, because the walls didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling.

With Melissa gone, we asked Mike the next question and realized we’d be spending probably no more than 10 more minutes with him. Not more than 1 minute later, as soon as we started to get comfortable again, the crazy guy comes back in and starts yelling at Mike! “We rescheduled this for you – we need you on this call. Now. If you don’t come, we can’t close this deal.” Okay, now we realized this was a bad situation. Mike casually said, “OK”, got up to leave, and asked us to email him the questions.

They just left us in the conference room, all alone. We packed up our stuff and awkwardly made our way to the front door, none of us saying a word. We walked down the nondescript hallways in silence, making faces at each other to share our mutual feeling of “what the hell was that?” but we kept our cool and made it out of the building. On the way back to the car, the only thing I could do was apologize profusely to my designer and engineer. “I’m so sorry guys, that has never happened to me before. I feel so icky. Oof, so sorry guys. Usually, my interviews are a lot more professional than that and people don’t come in yelling at the people you are interviewing.”

So, we spent the car ride back pretending to barge into each others’ interviews, laughing it off and trying to re-group for the rest of the day.


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