If you’ve ever spent any time as a recruiter, you know that there’s nothing more painful than having to sit through a terrible job interview.
That is, unless you’re the one being interviewed. Let’s just say that even in the best of times, interviews are never exactly a walk in the park.
More often, it’s like running some sort of ridiculous recruiting gauntlet, full of specious questions and potential landmines; simply getting through the interview can be difficult, much less getting through why you’re the best candidate for the job.
After all, there’s normally a lot riding on an interview, and there’s a ton of stuff that can go wrong – which means that it’s pretty common to get stressed out, which can kill anyone’s chances of successfully scoring that job.
If you’re one of the many who suffer from interview anxiety, rest assured you’re far from alone; in fact, a recent survey suggested a staggering 92% of Americans reported suffering from some sort of anxiety during a job interview.
Many job seekers psyche themselves out playing the “what if?” game of hopeless hypotheticals:
What if you say something completely inappropriate? What if the filter between your mouth and your brain suddenly disappears? What if you lose the power to articulate any rational thought? What if you forget the extensive research on the employer you’ve done on LinkedIn and Google? What if they hate you?
If you’re like most people, you know exactly what I mean.
Of course, the torture isn’t over just because the interview is complete; deconstructing and dissecting the experience almost always leads candidates to focus on what they did wrong, instead of what went right.
Hindsight is 20/20, which means most of us see how badly we screwed up quite clearly after the interview is over. Thing is, no matter how badly you screwed up, no matter how poorly you think you performed, most recruiters have seen it all – and unless you’re some sort of special case, they’ve seen way worse.
So what’s the worst that could happen? We asked hiring experts, recruiters, and CEOs from across industries and markets to discuss their most embarrassing, ridiculous or hilarious interview experiences ever. Most interview advice focuses on what candidates can do right, we instead wanted to let you know what the worst that can happen really looks like.
Whatever you do in an interview, don’t do any of the following, whatever you do.
“Please Hire My Boyfriend:” Making Sure You’re A Match.
Pascal Culverhouse of Electric Tobacconist once had an interview with a woman who appeared to be perfect for his company’s role..
“She was a strong candidate, she sailed through the interview and she seemed remarkably skilled for the position at hand. By the conclusion of the interview, I was convinced and offered her the job on the spot. At which point she smiled, thanked me, and asked if her boyfriend could have the role instead. I’d never met the man.”
Always make sure you are right for the role, and the role is right for you. Interviews require a lot of time and money, and should be taken seriously. No matter how supportive you are of your significant other, in no circumstances should they stand in for you in an interview.
Which really should go without saying, people.
“I Have A Hairy Chest”: Be Careful With Competitive Differentiation.
Julie Bishop at Jobhop makes a career out of helping employees find the right job but, sometimes, the candidates don’t help themselves. Just as she thinks she’s heard everything, someone takes her by surprise.
“I once asked the fairly standard question: ‘What makes you unique?’ This regularly throws up some interesting responses, and it’s great to see how candidates think on their feet. This one gentleman considered the question, and paused a few moments to gather his thoughts. He then replied, rather confidently, with ‘I have a hairy chest.’”
Honesty is normally the best policy, but there’s such a thing as too much information. And there’s a whole lot of stuff no recruiter needs (or wants) to know. Make sure you don’t cross that line, or you’re going to make things awkward for both of you.
Before going to any interview, do a little legwork and prepare yourself for the most commonly posed interview questions and try to have some go-to responses that are professional, thorough and, most importantly, don’t freak the hell out of the recruiter.
Talk about “greatest weakness…”
“You’re Hot For A Recruiter”: Why Flattery Gets You Everything But A Job.
Stuart Hearn of Clear Review has conducted a lot of interviews over the years and most of them have been fairly standard. However, one particular interview really stands out for him — for all the wrong reasons.
“When I asked the candidate ‘How did you prepare for today’s interview?’, the person responded with ‘I did some research on you and heard that you were rather attractive’. I was completely speechless. I’d never had someone try to chat me up as a way of getting a job.”
You want recruiters to remember you at the end of the day, and want to stand out from the competition; bland and unremarkable aren’t normally the attributes that end in an offer. The thing is, you want to stand out through stuff like soft skills, emotional intelligence and interpersonal empathy.
It’s always a better idea to show a recruiter why you fit in than go out of your way to stand out. It’s a strategy that can badly backfire. And remember: don’t get too fresh or familiar with your interviewer.
You’re more likely to end up with a lawsuit than a job, so remember that there’s a line that should never be crossed – this isn’t casting, it’s recruiting.
“Whoa. Where Am I, Again?”: Making Sure You’re In The Right Interview.
Ida Banek of GRIT International once had an interesting interview with a gentleman who had applied for a position in the tobacco industry. Ida asked him what he knew about the company. At this point, it became clear that something wasn’t right.
“He began talking about how much he loved chocolate, and he joked about how he would love to receive some free samples as a job perk. I was confused, but it became very clear that the candidate didn’t know what role he was interviewing for.”
If you’re really eager to get your career moving in the right direction, it’s tempting to apply for as many jobs at possible and cast a wide net, effectively throwing stuff to see what sticks. At best, you’ll end up with a bunch of interviews for random jobs at random companies that you don’t want in the first place.
In person interviews, particularly when scheduling a bunch of them all at the same time, can be hard to keep straight, but that’s no excuse for completely blanking out on where you are and what you’re interviewing for.
This probably won’t impress the company, and rightfully sends up a red flag that you don’t have this whole “adulting” thing down just quite yet, much less professional potential worth investing in. If you need a helping hand to keep your interview schedule organized, the good news is, there’s an app for that.
“What’s 600 Miles, Anyway?”: Fit Happens. But Only If You’re Realistic.
Keith White of Dobell Menswear has had his share of enthusiastic interviewees, but one keen candidate stands out above all others.
“I once interviewed someone who was in the process of moving to the UK from Poland. He had moved to the UK on the day of the interview, which demonstrated just how confident he was! Fortunately, he was extremely competent, and I offered him the job. As we were wrapping up, making small talk, I asked him where his new flat was. He responded, ‘central Aberdeen’. He assumed that the UK wasn’t that big and he could commute from Aberdeen to Brighton every day, and wondered if there was a direct train. It didn’t work out in the end…”
No matter how gung ho you are about any given opportunity, there are certain factors that common sense should dictate probably constitute a crap career choice. In recruiting, like in real estate, location is everything; despite the increasingly interconnected world of work and rise of flexible work arrangements, commuting times are steadily increasing.
Long trips to work come at a psychological cost, which studies show can seriously impact your productivity and performance. Driving yourself insane probably isn’t worth sitting in traffic to get to a job that you’re going to underperform at once you finally get there.
“I’m Good With The Ladies”: Know Which Skills Are Transferrable.
In 2015, Luke Hughes of Origym found himself in desperate need of a new sales rep. He was so eager to get the new rep hired and working that he agreed to meet with an eager candidate on a Sunday afternoon. Luke was skeptical about the gentleman, given his youth, lack of experience and limited qualifications, but he was holding out hope for a gem.
During the interview, Luke asked “Why do you think you would be good at sales, despite not having any sales experience?” The candidate replied:
“Well, my friends say I have the gift of the gab. When I go out clubbing, I always go home with a girl.” Taken aback, Luke asked how that helped in a sales role. The candidate replied: “It shows I can talk to anybody, in any situation.”
If you have no experience whatsoever for the role in question, interviews can be pretty damned difficult. Perhaps you’re just starting out in your career or maybe you’re making a transition, but either way, the classic Catch 22 remains: you can’t get the experience to get a job because every job requires experience.
The best way to overcome this, of course, is by demonstrating transferrable skills and how they relate to the job – but remember, not every skill is one that you should bring up to a recruiter. Let’s just say, make sure it’s NSFW, or you’re going to be SOL.
“I’m the Best, Baby”: Listen Before You Speak.
Alina Morkin, Vice President at Voices.com, once enquired how skilled an interview candidate was with a particular piece of software.
“I thought it was a pretty straight-forward question. But the interviewee immediately answered with “Level 2! No. Wait. Level 3. Actually — the highest level!”. Not only was it clear that they were lying, it reminded me of Brick Tamland from the movie Anchorman, yelling “I love lamp!” Clearly, this candidate had no clue what they were talking about.”
If for whatever reason you don’t understand what a recruiter is asking, make sure you follow up and get the clarification you need before answering. Your interviewer wants to make sure they’re getting the necessary information and relevant insights to make the right hiring decision.
If you don’t get what they’re going for, don’t just guess at an answer – you’re probably going to get it wrong, and look like a complete idiot, not to mention a complete liar, too.
Any recruiter will see right through you.
“Hire Me, And Then I’ll Answer”: Don’t Be Shady.
Rachel Carrell, CEO of childcare tech startup Koru Kids, was once left open-mouthed during an interview for a senior role. Rachel was trying to find her next Head of eCommerce, but the interviewer refused to ask any questions regarding content or strategy.
“The candidate told me: ‘I usually get paid a lot of money to answer questions like that’. The interview was ultimately very short-lived. How can I gauge your skill level or evaluate your appropriateness for the position if you refuse to discuss content?”
You might come with glowing references, effusive recommendations, an established track record of success and a top notch set of skills, but remember that the recruiter doesn’t really know you, no matter how confident you are in your abilities. That’s the point of the interview, of course – but if you dodge questions, act shady or refuse to play the recruiting game, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
Besides, only hiring managers can get away with that sort of thing.
About the Author:
Kaz Osman is a software developer and director of Career Ninja UK — a career hub that delivers employment news, interview tips, and career advice.
Kaz is passionate about helping people find the career of their dreams and providing all the information necessary to climb to the top of their field.