From coming to the interview looking unprofessional and unprepared to not having any knowledge of the position or the company applied for, hiring managers share their interview horror stories.
[Content has been edited for clarity.]
It Wasn’t Just The Job He Didn’t Get
“I used to manage a Blockbuster and after one particularly awful interview, I walked the candidate out towards the parking lot and the alarms went off. It turned out he stuffed three DVDs in his suit jacket before being called back to the office.
He did not get the job. Or Mama Mia, Fool’s Gold, or High School Musical 3 for that matter.”
Helicopter Parenting To The Extreme
“My Dad told me a great story.
He was hiring for a technical position. He has one guy come in with an older gentleman. The interviewee was in his mid 30’s while the guy with him was mid 50’s. This person was apparently his dad.
The guy who was actually there to be interviewed never spoke, but the man in his 50’s comes in and the first thing he does is start trying to negotiate about pay. He’d come in on the assumption that of course, his son was going to be hired, and now they just needed to hammer out the details on what his son was going to get in terms of pay and benefits.
My Dad told them that if the older man was willing to wait outside, he would be happy to restart the interview, but since the interviewee’s dad was not going to be working there, he had no reason to speak to him. They declined this offer and left.”
Is This Some Kind Of Prank?
“I interviewed a guy to work as a manager selling internet, home phones, mobiles etc. The job wasn’t overly hard, but you had to memorize a lot of product info that updated (or changed completely) monthly, and the targets were expected to be met but were impossible to meet (i.e. 25 people enter the store in a day but we are expected to connect 80 services a day). Ridiculous.
Anyway, this guy came in and I asked him why he wanted the job. He said, ‘Well I really just wanted something super easy where I could kind of do nothing. I mean you guys don’t look like you work very hard. Also, there are some hot girls that work here and I’d like to get to know them.’
I asked him what made him think that the job was easy and he replied, ‘Well the thing is, I’m really smart.’
I literally looked around to see if I was on some candid camera show.”
This Entry Level Job Salary Negotiation
“I work for a retail company and we had a hiring fair for positions in stores in our area. They were all front-line customer service gigs between $8-10 an hour and our advertising was very clear about who we were and what openings we had. I had this well-dressed middle-aged man come in with a briefcase, a leather satchel, and his laptop. He immediately demanded to speak with whoever was in charge because he was led to believe this was a massive regional job fair for a variety of companies. During the interview, he started by telling me that I shouldn’t even start talking unless I was prepared to match his current job’s $60,000 salary. I reminded him that these jobs were entry-level jobs that paid accordingly and he told me that I had five minutes to ‘Wow’ him into accepting a job. This whole time, he was setting up his laptop, a notepad, a cup of pens, and a calendar like this was his freaking workstation. I gave him a cursory rundown of the job and he let me know that he would settle for $45,000 in salary, but he could only work 7am-4pm because that’s when his mom was available to drop him off and pick him up. I let him know that we would keep his information on file in case a position more fitting for what he was seeking opened up in our company to force a conclusion to this. He stopped me and said he would take an entry-level job if I let him use my phone to call his mom to come pick him up.
And that man worked his way up to manage an entire market of stores.
Nah, I just let him use my phone and never called him back. We hired a handful of high school and college kids.”
The Obnoxious Candidate
“Another supervisor and I were interviewing candidates for a security position at a larger company. We had three interviews scheduled that day back to back so being on time or slightly early for the interview was just as important to the candidate as it was to us. The first person showed up on time and the interview was normal. The second person showed up wearing a wife beater that had a lot of stains, baggy jeans with more stains, and sandals along with an odor that was not the best. He showed up 20 minutes late and was very loud and obnoxious in his greetings to us and then sat in the chair laid back, with one leg over the arm of the chair. We asked the standard 10 questions and he either rolled his eyes and answered them with some sarcastic comment or took offense for no reason and replied with a question of his own.
After we finished he asked if he had the job and when can he start. We told him we have a process and after the candidates were reviewed we would contact everyone regardless if they got the job. After hearing this he started jumping up and down telling us we were racists and how he was going to sue our company for everything they own quite loudly. As we were escorting him out, he begged us not to hire him as he was just doing the interview to fulfill his welfare payment requirements for applying for jobs and didn’t want to work all along. My opinion on a few subjects changed that day.”
In A Suit And Tie For A Retail Position
“I used to manage for Geek Squad. A big red flag for me was always if someone came in to ask about a job wearing a suit and tie. This is essentially retail, and if you come in like that it shows that you really don’t know at all what you are getting in to. Anyway, this one guy came in to inquire about a job in a suit. I directed him to the website, took his name, etc. and really had no intention of calling him when it popped up in my system. However, my District Manager decided to ‘help me out’ as he knew that I needed someone, and went through all the applications and set up interviews, so of course, this guy was on the list.
I had interviewed 5 or 6 other people already this day, so when I saw him, again wearing a full suit, tie, jacket and overcoat, I groaned inwardly. As he approached me and shook my hand, I just got that feeling that he wouldn’t work out, and it was intensified when he opened his leather briefcase and pulled out a professionally bound and printed copy of his resume (he had just graduated high school and had previously only worked at a local pizza place, so this was extra laughable).
The first question I asked was about technical experience. He had none. He had a computer in his room, but he didn’t know anything about them really. This is not really a deal breaker for me, as most of my crew couldn’t spell computer before working for me, so we moved on. I asked him about what interested him in Geek Squad, he waxed poetic for 20 minutes about hopes and dreams and life goals and I zoned out a little and stopped listening. I asked him about life goals, he droned on for another 20 minutes about how he doesn’t believe in college and feels that he can make it in the real world. I asked him about sales, and this is where the whole thing really broke down.
He assured me that he would not be dealing with customers. That that was not what he felt that job required, and was not something that he was comfortable with or wanted to do, so no, he would not be doing that. This is extra laughable not only because it is retail and therefore involves customers, but because the job description for the position that he applied for starts with the words ‘Customer Service Position.’
I ended the interview then, told him that I would be in touch. On his way out he told me that he would be happy to start the following Tuesday, but that he needed Saturdays and Wednesdays off. He then proceeded to tell me how much he expected to make, and I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing at him or yelling at him.
He called every single day for the next two weeks, even after I explained to him that I would not be moving forward with him.”
A True Halloween Horror
“I work for a chemical company that hires local college students every semester to do routine lab work for us. We have a fairly constant stream of candidates, but this was by far the worst. The interview in question occurred three days before Halloween that year, and coincidentally was the same day as our Halloween office party.
Our office manager had hired a psychic for the afternoon events. So when a young woman showed up in black lace, a black corset, black eyeliner, and spider-themed jewelry, we just assumed she was the entertainment. Nope! It was our candidate. Okay, so after the initial awkward exchanges, we rolled with the punches. The non-professional presentation was bad, but not enough to outright dismiss her. Plus it was nearly Halloween, so we let it slide. Got her into the interview room and sitting with some engineers ASAP.
After about 30 minutes, a cop shows up and asks if we’ve seen a girl dressed in all black matching her description. Why, yes, officer. She’s here in an interview, is something wrong?
Turns out she had taken a cab to our building but didn’t have any cash on hand. So when the cabbie let her out she decided to do the responsible thing and book it inside without paying. The cop removed her from our building mid-interview, escorted her to the nearest ATM, and made her withdraw cash to pay the cabbie. Then he brought her back and left her with us.
My colleague was so completely flabbergasted by the whole thing that she just finished the interview and sent the young thing on her way.”
The Most Aggressive Answer
“I’m an IT Director, I was hiring an entry level person. I had this one guy come in fresh out of a correctional institution. He was around 6’6”, 250lbs, ripped muscle and had half-sleeve tattoos on both arms. We talked for a little while. He wasn’t a very technical person, but he was one of the better ones in the batch. What I mean by that was he was very personable and friendly and this was a desktop support position.
I thought to myself, ‘Well he was honest, he got popped for possession, showed me a coin that he has been going to meetings and is sober now, offered to have me talk with his sponsor – we can teach him the easy tech stuff.’ I then asked him a few situational questions, this is where it stumbled.
Me: ‘So you are at a user’s desk, and they are getting really frustrated that you haven’t solved an issue that takes you normally 10 minutes in the 90 seconds you have been there, how do you handle the irate user?’
Him: ‘I tell the user, please be patient I am working on it.’
Me: ‘After 3 minutes the user says, ‘Will you please get someone competent here, I have real work to do.”
He is actually starting to get visibility ruffled at this point.
Him: ‘I tell him, it shouldn’t be long I’m still working on it.’
Me: ‘Why are you still working on it, just click a few buttons and be done, call someone up that can actually fix this, now!’
Him: ‘I tell the user, to get lost, and if there is an issue, I’ll beat the living daylights out of them with their own chair, because they need to understand respect for people.’
I didn’t hire him. I really really wanted to, but the next candidate was actually perfect for the job.”
This Candidate’s Chinaman
“A few years ago we put out an app for a senior software developer. The description was rather broad; we had a variety of projects we could stick them on, but needed a senior level person that could jump in relatively quickly.
In comes this lady, let’s name her Susan, with an excellent resume. Ten years of development experience, lead-level previous position, listed proficiencies in all the languages we wanted, even obscure ones.
So we bring her for an interview, one of those public sector committee ones with preset questions, and she’s acing it: talks a big game, excitedly describes her past projects and their impact, seems all around pretty personable. Then we deviate a bit and start asking basic coding questions and she replies with a line I will never forget as long as I shall live:
‘Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t really do coding, I have my Chinaman for that.’
[five seconds of stunned silence]
‘I beg your pardon?…’
‘My Chinaman, if something needs doing, I pass it off to him and it’s just done. He’s really good.’
When we inquired if we could maybe interview ‘the Chinaman’ instead, she got really flustered and basically wound the interview down. It’s like we committed a great offense by implying the two of them were separate entities. To this day we don’t really know what the deal there was, exactly.”
Incompetent Candidate Hired Through Close Connection
“It was the worst interview I’ve ever been a part of. The guy couldn’t speak coherently, he didn’t seem to have much motivation, critical thinking skills or subject matter expertise for the job that was open. When I asked him why he thought he would be the right candidate for the job, he seriously said, ‘Well I’ve known (VP’s Name) for 20 years, we worked together at (name of bank) and she said I could have this job.’
Now I wasn’t the hiring manager, but it was normal to ask other managers to interview candidates, more so to get a feel for whether they would be a good fit. When I met with the hiring manager, I said they couldn’t possibly be considering hiring this guy. She just put her head down and said that (VP’s Name) made her interview the guy and strongly suggested that he be hired.
Not only was the imbecile hired, but he was promoted to Supervisor in about two months (during which time he came in, sat at his desk, and apparently did nothing all day). I put in my notice shortly after that, which had been a long time coming anyway.”
No Clue Why She Is Interested In This Job
“I was hiring for a position in my office. It was a final-round interview, and if I liked the candidate, she’d get the job.
I meet her and, like most candidates for jobs, she brings in a copy of her resume. I sit her down and ask as an opening question, ‘So, what caused you to take interest in this position?’
The girl smiles and says, ‘Well, I have a lot of experience that I feel I could bring to the table, which is on my resume.’
She then looks down at her resume and proceeds to read it to me. Verbatim and in its entirety. For 15 minutes straight. No eye contact. She reads word-for-word every bullet point, every detail, every award and leadership position that she had in college, what she did at her last internship, most of which had absolutely nothing to do with the job.
After 15 minutes of her talking, I still did not know why she was interested in the job.
In fact, all I knew about her was the information on her resume, which I had received and read prior to the interview.
And she knew I’d previously seen it because I’d mentioned reading her resume before we sat down.
I didn’t bother asking all the questions I was supposed to. We talked for a little bit after that, and then I thanked her for her time and called it a day.”
One Letter Can Make The Biggest Difference
“I was giving one soldier the initial platoon commander interview.
I got this soldier to fill out a form with a few stock-standard questions that I could ask further questions from (what are your goals in the army, what are your strengths, weaknesses etc). There was also one particular question: ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’
Anyway, he came into the office and sat down, having answered the above question, ‘Chief of Army.’
‘Well, private, that’s a pretty ambitious goal for just five years. How do you think you’re going to make that happen?’
‘Just train really hard.’
‘You’re not even commissioned yet. That’ll take, like, two years at least.’
‘Do you have to be commissioned to be a chef?’
‘You wrote ‘chief’.’
‘Oh, I just don’t know how to spell chef.'”
The One With Obvious Lies On Her Resume
“I was hiring for an entry level developer position. I was the first gatekeeper prior to interviewing with the dev team or tech lead. We really wanted someone who could do basic websites and the like with a passion for programming. This recruiter sends in a candidate with a pretty good resume. She had listed 20 or so technologies along with her competencies in each. She was an expert in a lot of them.
From the very first question, it was evident that the whole resume was a lie and that she didn’t have competencies in any of them. So obviously she wasn’t going to get past me, but I felt I should talk to her for a polite amount of time, e.g., more than two minutes. The interview became a minefield for me as I tried to ask questions that wouldn’t embarrass us both. I’d ask a question and she would ramble on completely nonsensically for a few minutes before I stopped her and said something like, ‘Well that wasn’t quite the answer I was looking for.’
She was getting more nervous and visibly distraught as we went on. I started to get pissed. The last question I asked was, ‘Tell me when you would use Dreamweaver (a web page editor) versus PhotoShop when putting together a website.’ She didn’t know. I asked her point-blank what Dreamweaver did. She didn’t know. For whatever reason, this was too much for me and I ended the interview abruptly, trying to hide my anger at this person for straight up lying to everyone involved in the process. She left crying, basically begging me to give her a chance.”
The Personal Opinion That Has Nothing To Do With The Interview
“I’ve done some pretty wild interviews, particularly for a canvassing company I worked for. I mean, there were a few times when I simply told the interviewee, ‘Listen, this is a very easy job to get. All you need to do is be able to speak coherently and be reliable, but I can’t hire you if you tell me you do illegal substances in the interview. Go home, do some research on how to behave in interviews and come back next month.’ I actually re-interviewed a few of these people.
But the one that really sticks out to me was at a phone center I was running. This woman came in a sort of odd outfit. She felt it was necessary to wear her rainbow ear spools to the interview. It’s a phone center though, I’m not put off by what she looks like and at first, she was very well spoken. Then, all of sudden, things just got weird! She, out of nowhere said:
‘I’m not going to have to talk to people about pro-choice stuff, am I?’
‘You know, cause I’m really anti-abortion. I mean, I just don’t think it’s right and, you know, I’d be uncomfortable if I had to advocate for it.’
‘Do you know where you are?’
‘We are the AFL-CIO. We’re the unions – not a pro-choice group. You know that, right?’
‘Yea, but, you’re like non-profit or whatever and you know, like non-profits like abortion.’
WHAT?! Girl, if I can’t get you to stay on topic during the interview, what would you be like on the phone?! Moreover, how did you manage to slip your own – EXTREMELY PERSONAL – opinion on abortion in an interview session with the AFL-CIO? It was just so nutty. I wonder if she ever thinks about that interview and cringes, because I know I do.”
Still Can’t Get Over How Bad He Was
“I interviewed a guy who in the interview did all three of these cardinal sins:
1) Comment that I was a woman and if I was ‘actually his boss, or just an HR desk clerk?’
2) Ask if we tested for illegal substances, and if so, could he take it in ‘like a week, he should pass then.’
3) When I said that we are business casual his response was, ‘Well you would need to provide me with pants, since I only own jeans.’
I didn’t hire him. I am still shocked when I think of how bad of an applicant he was.”