Job Interview Horror Stories

Last Updated Mar 10, 2011 4:30 PM EST

Going on an interview can feel like a first date -- except with your livelihood at stake instead of a goodnight kiss. There's the same forced conversation and posturing, but without pleasant perks like a meal or glass of wine.

I remember an interview during which I couldn't stop laughing awkwardly, due to nerves. And another where my phone started ringing off the hook with family and friends calling to see how it went. (Uh, badly -- because I forgot to turn off my phone.)

Still, don't beat yourself up over an interview gone awry. Better to accept the lessons (ahem, turn phone off) and move on to the next one -- which is why Jon Allen started BadJobInterviews.com, a collection of interview tales so cringe-worthy they'll make you laugh.

"It allows people to both vent frustrations they have about job searching and also gain some perspective. These stories are also a great 'learn by example' of what not to do on your next interview," says Allen. One entry from the site: "I went to an interview recently where the recruiter had failed to send me the job description. I had to start off the interview with 'So ... what position am I being interviewed for?'" Yikes.

For your reading pleasure, I've compiled eight more of these "Yikes, at least that didn't happen to me" tales, shared from both sides of the interview table.
  • "There were maybe 10 of us waiting [for the elevator] on the ground floor, one of which was an attractive woman. A man joined us in line, and started to chat with her. She responded politely and then chose to ignore him. He then started to yell at her [saying] something about how he was interviewing for a great job with a great salary and he could buy and sell her...I started to recognize his voice [and] asked him if his name was, let's say, Bob. He said, 'Ya.' I asked him, 'Is your meeting with Bruce?' He went white and said 'Ya.' I said, 'It's cancelled.' And, no, I never heard from Bob again." -- Bruce A. Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, New York City.
  • "When I first graduated from college, I interviewed at a bank and the interviewee asked me to describe a stressful situation at a previous job. I start telling her about my summer job, where I sold driving lessons. The interviewer listened carefully and then followed up my answer with 'What did you do to alleviate this stress?' I was a college kid selling driving lessons on summer break -- give me a break. My kneejerk reaction was to say something cheeky. I paused for a split second, shrugged my shoulders and replied, 'I drank heavily.' I did not get that job." -- Leyla Arsan, owner of Lotus Marketing Services, Chicago, Ill.
  • "During an interview for an internship at a Bakersfield television station in the mid-1980s, the short, chubby news director was tipping back on the wheels of his high-backed chair, when it tipped over backward. My first instinct was to pretend it wasn't happening. But it became clear he was stuck, lying down backwards in his giant chair like a turtle that couldn't flip over. About a minute passes, and I realize he is as embarrassed as I am. I offer to step outside for a minute, he nods and I leave. A minute later, he is properly installed behind his desk. I figured that my chances of getting this internship were now zero and my television career was over before it had even started. We finished the interview, and a few days later, he called and gave me the internship." -- Diane Duthweiler, freelance television and video producer and book publicist, Seattle.
  • "I am a recruiter. One day a colleague of mine was interviewing a candidate -- and the candidate peed in her chair! The irony of it was that she was also an executive recruiter." -- Ruthanne Feinberg, Acuitas Search, San Francisco.
  • "As a young man just a year or two out of college, I interviewed at JP Morgan. The interviewer could not find my resume so she asked me for a copy. The only copy I had was a crumpled up one in my pocket. This was not a great start. Lesson learned -- have good copies of your resume with you. ... I will say this, though. In places I go for an interview, if they have to ask me for it, they probably are not ready for me and I have to ask myself if I really want to work there." -- Henry Motyka, job hunter, Norwood, N.J.
  • "I was [recovering from] food poisoning in the summer of 1994, in Japan, and some of the symptoms included high fevers and sweating. I had an interview with a very prominent company in Tokyo and did not want to reschedule. My only interview suit included a silk jacket. I wanted to make sure I wouldn't sweat through it, so in my desperation and with creative thinking, I put a panty shield on the arm pit areas of the jacket to absorb the sweat. What I didn't count on was the adhesive of the shields to be loosened by the humidity. Immediately after I finished my interview I noticed that one of the shields was no longer on my jacket. I have no idea what the reaction was of the guy who interviewed me when he saw my shield on the chair, but I can definitely state that I did not get the job. Since then I have removed silk from my attire." -- Melissa S., nonprofit executive, Cleveland.
  • "For a social worker position, the candidate was running a few minutes late. When asked by the security guard to show her ID and sign in, she yelled at him and moved briskly to the elevator. Her interview went well and [she] expected that she would be asked to come back for the next round of interviews. [But] security called the company, informing them what had occurred and she was not asked back for the next rounds. ... It was especially detrimental because the social worker [in this case] was supposed to be good at dealing with stress." -- Lavie Margolin, job search advisor and author of Lion Cub Job Search: Practical Job Search Assistance for Practical Job Seekers.
  • "The applicant, crossing her legs appropriately for the interview, stood up to shake hands with [my] hiring manager, and fell forward on her face" -- her legs had gone "totally numb ... The interviewer helped her up and said nothing of the incident, and ultimately hired her for the position. After she had been in the position for some time, she confessed to her manager that she was surprised that she was offered the job. His reply was: 'You made the greatest impression of any of the applicants.'" -- Terry Henley, director of compensation at Employers Resource Association, Cincinnati, Ohio.
What was your worst job interview ever, either as an interviewee or interviewer? Please sign in below and share your horror stories. And for more career advice, follow @MWOnTheJob on Twitter.
More on MoneyWatch:
  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

Comments

Market Data

Market News

Stock Watchlist