Job Interview Horror Stories: Hiring Managers Recall Their Scariest Scenarios
Interviews are scary—there’s no denying it. We’ve all been there: sweaty palms, clenched fists, face to face with a potential employer. It’s perfectly normal to say something you might regret later because you let your nerves get the best of you.
Most hiring managers can overlook that awkward tension. But what makes an interview truly terrifying? What type of behavior sends hiring managers running for their lives?
We talked with a handful of hiring managers who shared their most shocking interview horror stories. From mistakes as basic as name blunders to stories as outlandish as being lectured by an angry mother, these interviewers were scared silly.
Learn from their experiences so you won’t find yourself haunted by a bad interview.
6 seriously scary interview stories
1. Too much information
One of the golden rules of interviewing is to never lie. But there are certain scenarios where it’s smart to tone down your true feelings, according to Brad Stultz, human resources coordinator at Totally Promotional. He recalls an interview with a candidate who was a little too honest--and borderline unprofessional.
“During an interview I had posed the question, ‘Why do you want to work here?’” he explains. “The candidate responded, quite candidly, with ‘I really don’t. I just need a job and figured you would do for now.’”
Stultz says he does appreciate candor, but a blunt statement like that left him feeling this wasn’t the best candidate for the job. It’s no secret that people use certain positions as stepping stones, but it is bad form to share this during the interview process. Instead, mention one or two things that impress you about the company.
“There are always positives to any position,” Stultz shares. “A little tact can go a very long way!”
2. Letting it R.I.P.
Sometimes nature calls during the most inopportune times. Gene Caballero, co-founder of Greenpal, remembers a particularly humorous interview experience involving a candidate’s bodily functions.
“The funniest thing that ever happened while conducting an interview was when the interviewee got a little gaseous and actually passed gas, not once, but twice,” Caballero shares. “All three hiring managers in the room lost it after the second one after letting the first one slide. It was very awkward there for a minute, and one of the managers actually had to leave because she couldn't stop laughing.”
While it’s never a bad idea to show a hiring manager you’re comfortable and confident in their presence, you may want to take care of any disruptive bodily functions before an interview. Otherwise excuse yourself if necessary.
3. A bad sign
From your initial application through the interview and hiring process, honesty is always the best policy. You should never, ever lie on a resume, because you just might get caught red handed. Ed Fisher, a consultant at Acumax, remembers catching a candidate in the middle of a lie.
While reviewing resumes for an open position, he noticed one candidate listed fluency in sign language as a qualification. This skill wasn’t really relevant for the job, but it caught his attention as he had taken several ASL courses himself. So he decided it would be fun to conduct a portion of the interview in sign language.
“I entered the conference room, sat down at the table with the smiling applicant and began signing,” Fisher says. “She had no idea what I was saying.” She went on to admit that she had never learned sign language, but her roommate had. Needless to say, the dishonesty made a negative first impression on Fisher.
“The interview concluded in 5 minutes,” he adds.
4. Family matters
We know family is important, but they don’t need to be involved in your interview process. Ben Histand of Equity Track will never forget the time he encountered an angry mama bear after passing on a candidate.
“We also interviewed someone and they had their mom call us after they did not get the job,” Histand shares. “The mother proceeded to berate us for not hiring her precious child.” Take note: While berating another human is almost always a bad idea, bringing a family member into the mix – especially into professional matters – can only make things worse.
5. Name games
If you’re applying for a job, make sure to educate yourself on the company’s background, including its key leaders. It just might come up in the interview, says Marcello Medini, sales team leader at PNG Logistics. He shares a story about a candidate who just couldn’t keep her details straight, at her own expense.
“An applicant had gotten the name of the president of our company wrong multiple times,” Medini recalls. He sent an email explaining that they decided to go a different direction and cited the name mix-up as an unfortunate error. “She then responded that she doesn’t understand and got his first name wrong yet again!”
6. Disappearing act
Though integrity is of utmost importance, there are some instances when too much honesty can be harmful, according to Brandon Hoffman, director of digital marketing for KEA Advertising. He explains on their job application, they include a question asking candidates what they would like to be doing in five years. Typically, he’ll see answers like “running my own business” or “advancing my digital marketing career.” But this candidate was different.
“The applicant answered ‘full-time magician,’” Hoffman recalls. “When he came into my office, I asked him ‘Can you make yourself disappear?’” The candidate laughed, but Hoffman says he was serious.
“That was the end of the interview,” he says.
Don’t follow in their footsteps
Some of these interview horror stories may sound extreme, but learn from these candidates’ mistakes for when it’s your turn in the hot seat. A little preparation (and some common sense) can go a long way in avoiding a nightmare interview experience.
Now that you’ve had a laugh about what not to do, it’s time to shift your focus on what you can be doing right to make a great first impression. Have some more fun by checking out our article: 9 Expert Interview Tips, as Illustrated by Funny Cats.