My Pet Died. Should I tell the interviewer?

Last week I did an entire post on ‘excuses’ candidates give when missing or cancelling interviews, check it out here.  Then I get a question sent to me from a reader, who was getting ready to leave for an interview, that very day, and had their pet die.  Her question to me, “should I tell the interviewers, when I arrive, that my pet just died?”

That’s karma.  As soon as you make fun of something, the world has a way of pointing out this stuff really happens!

Here’s what I know. I have had a pet die as an adult.  It crushed me.  I cried like a baby. No, like a b_a_b_y!!  The hardest cry I can ever remember having in my life.  The old veterinarian that helped me out actually had to sit down with me and put his arm around me like he was my Dad.  I’m thankful he did that.

I can’t even imagine going to an interview after that just happened.  I would have been a mess.

So, what was my advice?

I would have told them my pet died.  I’ve interviewed thousands of people in my career.  Almost all of those folks actually wanted the job they were interviewing for, and wanted to put their best foot forward.  Every once in a while I had an interviewee come in and you could tell something was not right.  Sometimes they would tell you (sick kid I was up all night, just lost someone close to me, etc.) and give you context to why they were off their game. Many times they wouldn’t, and it didn’t go well, you could tell they were distracted and usually that ends with not moving forward.

You see, while most people don’t think HR is at all ‘human’, I am.  I get you’re going to have really crappy stuff happen to you in your life, and how you deal with it probably tells me as much about how you’ll perform in a job than any other single thing.  One thing we rarely get to see is how a candidate truly handles stress. Real stress!  So, having someone come in and show me that it really sucks, but life moves on and I really want this job, shows me they can handle stuff.

I think you need to be careful with this, though, because you can easily turn this into a huge negative. Let me give you two examples:

1. Pet dies in your arms an hour before you interview.  Almost everyone would say that’s traumatic and very stressful.  You coming to the interview and soldiering through will get you positive interview points.

2. Your sister lost her job an hour before you interview.  Potentially shocking news and you feel awful.  Bringing something like this up would make me question your resolve!  It’s a job, it’s your sister, that isn’t really traumatic.

Do you see the difference?  You gain positive points for being able to handle something universally considered horrible.  You get negative points if you can’t handle everyday stresses.   The problem is too many people considered ‘everyday stresses’ as horrible stresses, and no one is going to tell them differently.  I see this interviews all the time.

So, feel free to share major life stresses in interviews if you know they come across as real honest major stresses, and you feel confident you can show those you’re interviewing with that you can handle it and move on.  If you’re worried because your kid had a running nose before you left and you share that, you’re probably not getting asked back for a second interview.

7 thoughts on “My Pet Died. Should I tell the interviewer?

  1. Genuinely shocked at some of these comments. As an HR professional and for every organisation I’ve worked with, candidates who turn up for interview and are upfront whether they are nervous or have suffered a recent grievance always get positive points for at least turning up. It shows a certain level of maturity and strength that clearly Kristina and Parker don’t have. MIght work for you now but in the long term, I guarantee your success, both professional and personally won’t last long with that complete left sided way of mentality. It’s a job yes and requires professionalism but that doesn’t mean we have lost our essence of compassion and empathy.

  2. It is a work related interview. It is an interview. It is not a session with your psychiatrist or your social worker. I have huge compassion for my fellow workers – but this is a job interview. I don’t want your trauma – that is what you HR people have to learn and why managers think you are the touchy feely, don’t know about business folks. If you had a bad experience, you reschedule the interview. Don’t bring me into your drama during our first meeting. It is entirely inappropriate and self-serving.

  3. @Parker, you sound like a lovely person. I feel sorry you have no compassion or sympathy for your fellow human being. Life is hard, that doesn’t mean we have to be inconsiderate of peoples feelings.

  4. In that situation, I think it’s fine to say that a friend or a family member passed away. Because:
    – It is a sensitive and private matter. It is unrelated to the business between you and your interviewer.
    – Our pets really are our friends and our family members.
    – If told that a friend or family member of yours has passed, most people will assume the friend or family member was human.
    – Many people are less likely to respect grief over an animal than over a human.
    – You probably don’t know where your interviewer’s sympathies lie. Suppose your cat died, and the interviewer hates cats and cat owners?

  5. Sorry Tim – but life is hard. I have had pets die and have been devastated, but went to work and did my best. If you cannot get yourself together to take an interview, then cancel it and reschedule at another time. I really don’t want to hear about your pet, your sick kid, your flat tire, your nagging mother. I want grown ups to work for me. If you tell me about your problem I am going to see it as a way to excuse your bad interview. What are you going to do on your bad days if I hire you?

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