Job interviews are often awful--even when we do well. Sometimes, though, we torpedo our chances simply by opening our own mouths. Here are 15 true stories of interviews gone wrong:
When honesty is not the best policy.
1. I once interviewed for a job as a diversity trainer. "Why do you want the job?" they asked. "Well, I've hated every diversity training I've ever been to," I said. I went on to explain why that was relevant, but I had already talked myself out of a job.
2. The first interview I ever had was at McDonald's, when I was 16. When asked, "Can you work under pressure?" I answered, "No." I didn't realize until later that that was a mistake.
3. I interviewed for the midnight shift as a police dispatcher and was about to be hired--had a great reference and a great rapport with the lieutenant who interviewed me. I was the only candidate. At the time, though, I was already working three part-time jobs and did not want to quit any of them--I was a grad student in need of money! I guess my passive-aggressive way of turning down the job was to ask, "Would it be a problem for me to sleep--but just briefly!--during my shift?"
4. I once was interviewed for a government job, so I asked the guy if, in that case, you're not allowed to have a criminal record. He looked quite bewildered at me and I assured him I didn't have one, but I just wanted to know out of curiosity. Still got the job, in the end.
5. I work in HR for a large, high-profile company, so we get all kinds of people coming through the door. Once I was interviewing someone to be an assistant to a big executive and asked, "What caught your eye about this position?" The answer: "It seems like the kind of job I could write a tell-all book about in ten years."
Didn't make it to the interview.
6. Right out of college, I had an interview for an internship with a magazine. I had a phobia of glass elevators at the time, and when I entered the lobby, I discovered that I had to go to the 10th floor on a glass elevator! I knew then and there that I could never take the job. So I called the woman and said my appendix had burst and I was being rushed to the hospital, and that is why I was canceling at the last minute. She sounded truly alarmed and asked if I wanted to reschedule, to which I replied that I would probably not survive the surgery and hung up!
Can you recover from this?
7. I interviewed someone one snowy February morning last year. Out of five scheduled interviews that morning, this person was the only one who didn't cancel due to weather. She was a couple of minutes late, though, so I made my way up front to ask if our receptionist had heard from her. The front wall of our building (including the door) was all glass, so it was easy to see a woman hurrying through the heavy snow toward our front door, resume folder in hand. The only problem? She didn't see the glass through all the snow and ran into it at full speed. She was a total pro, though. Even though she was obviously flustered, she laughed it off and aced her interview. She got the job.
8. When I got out of college in the 90s, those Lee press-on nails were all the rage. I had on a nice, professional-looking set with a French manicure (I felt very cool) when I went to an interview. During the interview, I was nervous and was picking at that awful glue around the nails... when one of my nails popped off and hit my interviewer right in the face!! I was mortified. We laughed it off and I apologized but, needless to say, I did not get the job!
Open mouth, insert foot.
9. I am an HR Director. As I led an interviewee through the door of the room where we would be talking, he gestured with his arm, bowed his head a bit, and said, "Age before beauty"--then turned flame red.
10. My foot-in-mouth was during an interview for my first internship in college, with a now-defunct tech magazine. One question the editor asked was how I'd respond if a web developer said, "We did the back end of this site with ColdFusion."
At that time, there was a software program called ColdFusion, but I'd never heard of it. I was so nervous that I mentally blanked and substituted the Cold War-era pop-culture context of "cold fusion."
"Oh, I wouldn't fall for that," I said confidently. "If they did anything with cold fusion, they would be too busy trying to take over the world, not talking to me."
Thankfully, the editor thought this was hilarious, and I recovered by making a joke. I got the internship. Whew!
11. I once attended a job talk where the speaker said "circumcised" when she meant to say "circumscribed." It took her a few seconds to realize her error, and she turned blood red and said, "Well, I want to crawl in a hole right now!"
No. Just no.
12. My worst and most memorable interview was the transitioning woman-to-man who saw our job ad in a dream and followed the stars to apply for it, moving 18 hours away from home! He wanted to bring his 'pet wolf' to work with him and was upset when I said no. But I think the deciding factor was when he said, "I don't like breasts on myself but I sure like them on other women, and there are A LOT of women that work here!" He didn't get the job.
13. I interviewed a man who was talking about the challenges of managing an overseas, distributed team. He was doing fine until he started talking about how it was sometimes hard to understand his Chinese colleagues. He demonstrated the challenge by using his fingers to draw the skin of his eyelids away from the center of his face to make them more slanted, then started speaking in a fake pidgin accent. He didn't get hired.
14. I was working for a startup company. We'd just hired someone at the director level who had spent most of his career in politics. He referred a political colleague for an open position. This person was cocky, gave unserious answers to our questions, made bad jokes, and sat back in his chair like he was in someone's living room. He all but put his feet up on the desk. As we ended the interview, we let him know he didn't get the job. He said, "Oh, wait, that was a REAL interview? But Joe referred me--I thought the job was mine!"
15. I had 25 years experience as a speech-language pathologist and was interviewing a brand-new, shiny, out-of-the-wrapper speech-language pathologist for a job. She looked at me and said, "I probably know more than you do!"