Bombed Your Job Interview? These 5 Horror Stories Will Make You Feel Better
Can you remember the worst interview you’ve ever had?
Interviews can be intimidating (and weird), even under the best circumstances. But sometimes, things go straight-up wrong.
Maybe your interviewer is rude or behaves inappropriately -- or unexpectedly turns out to be someone you know a lot more about than you’d like.
Maybe it’s a misunderstanding, or lack of preparation on your part -- followed by the sudden, terrible feeling of knowing you’re in way over your head.
Either way, it might make you feel a little better to know that it happens to the best of us. And in a lot of cases, it probably could have been a lot worse.
Here are five mortifyingly bad job interview stories that will make you cringe, smile, laugh…
… and mostly be glad they’re not yours!
A Rejected Handshake
After the workplace she’d called home for almost a decade put pressure on Amanda for taking maternity leave, she knew she couldn’t return as she’d initially planned.
She found herself job-hunting, for the first time since college, in her mid-30s -- and unfortunately, one of her interviewers did a particularly bad job of rolling out the welcome mat.
“She was 25 minutes late collecting me from the lobby and she didn’t apologize,” Amanda writes to Forbes’s Liz Ryan.
“She just said my name (like it was the Department of Motor Vehicles or a courtroom) and stood there,” Amanda explains. “I stood up awkwardly, walked towards her and extended my hand and she didn’t shake it.”
Talk about awkward, right?
She goes on to say her would-be colleague didn’t even smile, and that her very first question was the infamous “What is your greatest weakness?”
Although she never imagined she’d have the gumption to do so, Amanda was so (rightly) upset by her interviewer’s behavior that she got up and walked out -- a move that would cue witness applause, at least in my case.
A Very Familiar Face
It’s always nerve-wracking to meet your interviewer for the first time.
But GreenPal co-founder Gene Caballero faced a particularly awkward set of niceties when he showed up to an interview for an IT position in Tennessee.
One of the interviewing managers turned out being his ex-girlfriend, whom he’d dated for three years in college.
Last he’d heard, she’d moved back to her home state of Texas to take a job with an IT company there. Looks like they still share some compatibility, since they both wound up in the same state!
So, how did Caballero fare after his initial shock?
“I actually did get the position and stayed with the company for about eight years before starting my business,” he writes.
“Needless to say, never burn any bridges.”
Stranded -- Three Times Over!
Tech entrepreneur Phil Petree might have a slightly disappointing superpower: being invisible to interviewers.
He’s been forced to wait for hours for them to acknowledge him -- and even found himself stranded after traveling long distances for the meeting.
In one instance, he was scheduled for an interview at 9 a.m. at a location about an hour from his home.
“They called and confirmed the evening before,” he writes.
“I got up extra early, drove up ahead of traffic, sat at Starbucks until 8:50 and showed up exactly on time,” Petree explains. “I was promptly seated in the waiting room, where I sat for two hours.”
When he finally got up to walk out, the receptionist said the interviewer had “made time to see [Petree],” and invited him into his office…
…for a ten-minute lecture on his “rude behavior.” What?
At another company in the same area, it happened to Petree again: He sat for two hours in the lobby before his depleted cell phone battery (and hopes) had him heading for the door.
“The receptionist asked me how it went,” he says. He told her no one had even stuck their head in the door to check on him -- the recruiter had forgotten about the meeting.
“Not one manager ever called to apologize, but that recruiting company has called me three times asking to come in.” Needless to say, he politely refuses.
Finally, the real kicker. This story makes the others look like practice runs.
“I was being flown to Houston from Miami,” Petree writes.
“It was a high-flying tech company that had just been acquired by Cisco. I had been through four different phone screens,” he says, and knew he was one of the top candidates.
All his travel arrangements had been made for him. He was excited for what seemed like the start of a new opportunity.
“I arrived on time, took their pre-arranged car to the hotel and was dropped at the front door. The hotel then told me I didn’t have a room,” as they’d given it to someone else due to his late arrival, which the company apparently didn’t confirm with the hotel.
Inconvenient and unprofessional, but livable… until he learned a convention in the area meant all the hotels close by were completely booked.
“I spent hours trying to find another room,” he says. “It was almost 3 a.m. when a Holiday Inn 15 miles away took me in. I had to pay for the room out of my own pocket. The interview started at 9 a.m.” He had to take a taxi to the office, which he also paid for himself.
Unfortunately, the interview itself didn’t justify the botched trip.
He knew after meeting with the third manager that it wasn’t a fit. The company refused to call him a car to return to the airport, and told him he could wait for the 5 p.m. airport shuttle… from the original hotel.
That’s how Petree ended up on a “two-mile walk to that hotel, in a suit, at noon, in July.” The company also didn’t cover his hotel, cab fares or anything else because he “didn’t stay at an approved vendor.”
An Inappropriate Seating Arrangement
TPH reader and Facebook commenter Terry Boblet faced a terrifying situation during one of her very first interviews as a young woman.
“A man who interviewed me sat me down on his lap,” she says. “He later kissed me goodbye when I left.”
Although his behavior was over-the-top inappropriate, Boblet was understandably stunned and scared. She didn’t know what to do.
And apparently, neither would anyone else: Although she’s asked career counselors and others what she should have done for years since, none of them have an answer.
Obviously, the interaction has made interviewing an even more stressful process for Boblet. She’s had some good ones, but says she’s selective about which she agrees to go to -- and we don’t blame her one bit.
A Fundamental Misunderstanding
Kathleen Garvin, an editor and marketing strategist here at The Penny Hoarder, had a pretty serious mix-up while she was still on the job hunt.
Since she also occasionally cycles in the “fantastic writer” hat, I’ll let her tell the tale in her own words here:
“About four years ago, I had an interview with a large Philadelphia media company. The print and online news giant was looking to hire a multimedia content producer. It was my dream role, and with nearly three years of online editing, social media and WordPress experience, it seemed like the perfect fit.
“During the interview (which had been previously canceled the day of, after I'd already rearranged my work schedule and took the train downtown -- an omen?), I sat across from my would-be boss. She offered a limp handshake and then sat there... just staring at me.
“She made it clear she was not interested in the interview. Undeterred, I started making small talk and talking about my past job experience.
"‘Do you have a portfolio to show me?’ she interrupted.
“I'm not a photographer, so I replied no. That's when she informed me her department was looking for an image and video producer for the web -- Not a writer. Not a WordPress pro. Not an editor.
“I essentially went in to interview for a job that didn't exist.
“There was obviously a major communication breakdown between her and human resources when cobbling together a job description. Still, there was no sympathy on her end.
“I explained the situation to the HR woman before I left, and then emailed both women after the interview. Thankfully, I received a job offer from a different company a couple months later.”
Your Turn: What was your worst interview ever? Did you get the job? Let us know in the comments!
Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder who gets really, really nervous before interviews. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot, Nashville Review and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.