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What You Can Learn From 7 Of The Most Cringeworthy Job Interviews

These tales from the recruiting trenches can help job seekers know exactly what NOT to do on an interview.

What You Can Learn From 7 Of The Most Cringeworthy Job Interviews
[Photo: nappy/Pexels]

Job interviews can set even the steadiest person on edge. The stakes are high and impressions take only minutes to form. One CareerBuilder survey found that as many as half of employers reported being able to size up a candidate within the first five minutes of an interview and determine whether they’d be a good fit for the job.

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Nerves are one thing, but there are some behaviors that automatically cost you the job. We asked recruiters and hiring managers to share their most outrageous stories. Here’s what they told us (and it goes without saying that none were hired).

“This Isn’t A Job I Would Want”

Tom Gimbel, the founder and CEO of Lasalle Network, remembers being in the final stages of interviewing a man who was applying for a management-level job at the company. “He was aloof and not that engaged, so I said, ‘You don’t come across that you’re very interested in the job.’ He said, ‘This isn’t a job I would want if it wasn’t for the fact that I am unemployed.’ So I asked him why he thought we would want to hire someone as a manager with influence over other people if it’s just a default. He said, ‘It is an easy job.'”

Gimbel says he wishes the guy would have told him earlier on in the interview process that he was only taking the job to bide his time until something better came along. Gimbel says it is important to interview for jobs you’re not interested in because you need the practice. “We don’t want people to limit themselves,” he says, but at the same time, use the experiences to gain insight and empathy. Without that, as with this candidate, says Gimbel, “They don’t put themselves in the situation to know how I would react.”


Related: These Are Some Of The Weirdest Interview Questions We’ve Heard


“Montana Is An Awful Place To Live”

Nate Tolley, currently a senior account executive at the Hoffman Agency, remembers a candidate from his days at his former employer. The first was for an account executive position, and the candidate was a New Zealander in her late 30s, with 15 years of experience in the field. “As she signed on to the Skype call, I immediately noticed several disconcerting things. She was dressed in what appeared to be pajamas, she was lying down on a carpet, and she was drinking from a full glass of wine. The interview then proceeded for several uncomfortable minutes as she elaborated that Montana is an awful place to live (where she was based at the time) and that she missed the “natural grassy hills and wilderness that suit a proper Kiwi.”

You would think it wouldn’t be that hard to figure out what to wear for an interview.

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“I Just Love Target”

Tolley also remembers a college graduate going for an entry-level position who seemed full of energy and confidence. “Her interview was going well. She had a decent amount of relevant experience for the position she was interviewing for and came across as very competent. That is until I asked what she likes to do in her free time. ‘You know, I just love Target.’ I asked if she meant she enjoyed shopping at Target. ‘Not particularly, I just really enjoy the smell and ambiance of Target. I like spending my time hanging out there and walking the aisles.’ Our office was based right next to a Target. I was worried if we hired her she’d walk over to it and never come back.”

When you do your homework for a job interview, you should also probably practice answering a few questions about yourself and your personal interests.


Related: Here’s How You Can Prepare For These Common Interview Questions


“No, You Shut Up!”

Gayle Wiley, chief people officer for Lifesize, a video provider in the collaboration technology space, says that they conduct their remote employee interviews via video conference. “One interview started like any other and was going smoothly until the candidate’s pet parrot started chiming in with some rude language. Eventually, the candidate had to address the parrot directly asking it to be quiet, to which the parrot responded, “No, you shut up!” Before too long, the candidate and his pet were in a full-blown argument, and recognizing his complete frustration, I kindly offered to reschedule the discussion.”

It’s understandable to be a little flustered, especially if an interview gets scheduled at the last minute. But you should always take the basic steps to be prepared.

“Hold, Please”

Amanda Augustine, a career advice expert for TopResume, says she once met a candidate for a customer-service representative position who answered his cell phone in the middle of the interview. “It never dawned on him to turn off the phone before he set foot in the office (major faux pas, folks), and then he had the audacity to stop me mid-sentence to answer the call. There was no emergency, no wife in labor. He just casually answered a call from a friend and, while he didn’t stay on the call very long, he also didn’t rush his friend off the other end, either. He was not the least bit embarrassed or apologetic about the situation.”

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While some company cultures are casual, there is simply no excuse to take a call during a job interview.

“Risky Bedside Manner”

Gaylyn Sher-Jan, chief people officer at Insitu, a Boeing company, remembers when she worked at Zoom and was hiring a lot of nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

“One candidate looked good on paper, and passed his phone interview and medical attestation questions with ease. These candidates are in high demand. He came into his interview dressed very casually, in tattered jeans and rumpled clothes, dark circles under his eyes, checking out our receptionist in a wildly inappropriate manner. We weren’t sure if we should go on, and within the first hour he let us know exactly what his work schedule could accommodate, and that he expected us to provide a nurse to help with patients and room set up in order for him to do his job effectively. This was not our model, and we had made this clear up front, but he still made the demands. All this without making eye contact. If we hadn’t seen all this in person, who knows what might have happened.”

Body language is just as important as passing skills assessments.


Related: These 5 Interview Questions Reveal The Most About Job Candidates


“I Had To Ask Him To Please Stop Interrupting Her”

Maren Hogan, the CEO of Red Branch Media, says the agency attracts a fair number of creative people during interview time. In one case, a designer with a colorful past who’d been a chef and an entrepreneur got an interview after he aced their special project assignment.

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“One of our lead designers is a strong woman, so I invited her to interview to get a sense of whether she thought he would be a fit. Throughout the interview, he talked over her and me and seemed to have absolutely no idea what he was doing. At one point, I had to ask him to please stop interrupting her. While we were introducing him to the remainder of the team, my digital research director (also a woman) seemed very uncomfortable in his presence. Later, when he’d left, she told me she’d seen him on the news. He’d been convicted of a sex crime.”

This one should go without saying: Don’t be a dirtbag.

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About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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