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By Starshine Roshell |

Job Interview Horror Stories: What NOT to Do

job interview

Job hunting ain’t easy. We’ve all been there—and some of us at lynda.com admit to making some pretty embarrassing mistakes along the way.

It’s our hope that by sharing some of our egregious job interview errors—and those of other people we’ve met along the way—we might spare you, dear reader, from having to learn these lessons the hard way. Or at least give you a good chuckle.

If you’re looking for a job, here are some tips from both applicants and employers on what not to do during the interview process:

I also sent off a cover letter with a first-sentence typo because I was so excited to send it out that I didn’t proof it carefully.

–Jolie Miller, director of content, Business

When I was trying to move from Southern California to San Francisco, I got an interview at a real-estate magazine in downtown SF. I drove up, stayed with a friend, left a half hour early for the appointment—and had no idea what a nightmare parking in downtown SF was. I circled and circled, freaking out, and finally found a spot. I was 15 minutes late for the interview and of course didn’t get an offer.

My sister-in-law’s first question while interviewing with the extremely competitive Teach for America was, “Can I defer if I’m accepted?” Uh, yeah, she wasn’t.

–Willem Knibbe, content manager

I was interviewing for an internship with a small software firm after the first year of my MBA at the University of Tennessee. I wanted to dress the part of an astute graduate business student. I put on a nice dark Brooks Brothers suit, crisp white button down, and a safe red tie. The front door of the building was locked. I knocked. Moments later, a young kid in a tank top and baggy camo shorts greeted me.

“Can I help you?” He looked confused. “I’m interviewing with Phil today,” I replied. He smiled, “Oh, the MBA. Follow me.”
That day I learned a great lesson: Researching the culture of the industry and the firm is essential. I was the only person in the building wearing a suit. Jokes were made at my expense all day—to my face. The COO said, “Don’t you know ties cut off the blood supply to your brain?”
It was humbling and funny.  Lesson learned.

–Todd Dewett, Business author

A young designer was referred to me by a well-respected designer. He came to the office in flip flops, torn jeans, a beanie, and greasy hair. When he opened his portfolio case, a cockroach ran out. The work was a mess, torn, wrinkled, and dirty. I asked him why it was so bad and he said, “I forgot about this interview until I woke up an hour ago.” He wasn’t hired.

–Sean Adams, Design author

A friend of mine is an HR manager and he interviewed a guy who arrived on a motorcycle, and kept his helmet on for the whole interview—only raising the visor to answer the questions!

–Chris Croft, Business author

Once I was in the middle of an interview when I got something in my contact and had to stop the interview to take care of my eye, which had teared up and was in searing pain. I had to pop the contact out in the middle of the interview and hold it.

Another time, I did the entire interview and realized afterward that I had spilled my mocha down the front of my blouse earlier.

But I got both jobs!

–Juliana Aldous, content manager

Other interview no-no’s:

  • New college graduates who bring their parents to interviews in order to help with negotiations. Never allow helicopter parents in the interview!
  • New college graduates asking if the hours are flexible. It’s your first job—get ready to work!
  • Job candidates who literally don’t know anything about the job. Do the research! Start with the job description, then work your network, and start Googling. There is no excuse to show up completely ignorant.
  • Job candidates (new college graduates) who show up and want to negotiate when they will be promoted. What?! You’ve done nothing yet!
  • Job candidates who show up smelling like a brewery. They may have showered, but the previous night’s activities are still lingering… Not going to get hired.
  • Job candidates who ask about drug-testing possibilities. This, of course, is like carrying a huge sign that reads, “I smoke weed!”
  • Job candidates who answer calls on their smart phone during interviews!

Final tips from the hiring desk:

When people put “reading” as a hobby, I never believe them, so I ask them what they have read recently, or what their favorite book is. Often they are stumped. Don’t put “reading” unless you really read!

I hate it when people have a CV summary full of clichés like “Dynamic self-starter with a passion for creating excellence.” Into the trash they go!

–Chris Croft

I always say that job-hunting writing should be thoughtfully done like you do an online dating profile: lots of careful thought into how it will be received and what the other person will think.

–Jolie Miller

To learn more, watch Acing Your Interview on lynda.com. You may also be interested in:


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