Top 11 Interview Fails and Funny Stories

Happy August! While out celebrating a particularly successful month of July last Friday, I found myself asking the team about their experiences with interviews gone wrong. Some retold stories that they’d heard from years in the business and others shared cringe-worthy first hand experiences. Here’s my recap of their top interview fails and funny stories. Enjoy!

1. Are These for Everyone?

Most people experience a certain amount of nervousness when interviewing. Whether due to fear of failure or the pressure of so much riding on a single performance, nerves can manifest themselves in many ways. In the case shared with me last week, a candidate ate all of the candy from the bowl of the hiring manager while trying to answer questions over the course of a 45-minute interview. As if that behavior wasn’t awkward enough, apparently he also provided a running commentary in hushed tones on the quality of the candy selection, “Ugghhh. What flavor is that? That’s bad!”

2. Feeling Too Comfortable During Interview

Many of our clients hiring for roles such as business development, PR or media sales will incorporate an “informal” lunch or dinner session into the overall interview process in order to gauge how candidates conduct themselves in this typical external environment. Recently, a woman interviewing for a VP-level role was one wine into dinner and apparently comfortable enough to ask the hiring manager if the company president was “as big an a**hole as he seemed” during the formal interview. Check!

3. Skype Surprise

While conducting an initial Skype interview with a candidate for an account director role at an agency in New York, her boyfriend (we think) entered the screen from stage left and proceeded to walk past in the background. Odd enough on it’s own, but stranger still given that he was nude.

4. Slip of the Tongue

During an in-person interview, we asked a person to tell us a bit about herself in context of the specific role for which she was being considered. She went on about her academic background, professional qualifications, certifications, etc. and finished it with an awesome “that’s me in a nut sack” instead of the more obvious “that’s me in a nutshell”. Her face turning a bright red was our only indication that she’d realized her error.

5. A Sharp Pencil Doesn’t Always Equal a Sharp Mind

In the home stretch of his in-person interviews, a finalist for the role of marketing analytics manager was sharing a particularly compelling plug-n-play model that he’d developed with the hiring company’s CMO. For reasons that even he couldn’t fully explain, the candidate moved in close to the CMO and, in the process, cut through said CMO’s shirt (and skin) with his mechanical pencil. Apparently, neither party knew what to say and the interview ended abruptly.

6. The SEO Expert

Years ago, we agreed to help an existing client vet prospective digital marketing interns for the summer. Things did not start well when the first undergraduate student responded to our inquiry about SEO best practices with the following response: “Well, I know you have to phone Google every day and tell them where to put your website so I think I know enough for this job”. Really?

7. Mind Blowing Design

One of my favorites, and apparently something that comes up more often than I would have guessed, a UXD candidate asked the recruiter “If I get an offer, how long do I have before I have to take the drug test?”

8. The One Word Summary

In her previous role in corporate talent acquisition, Mel’s employer required candidates to complete detailed online profiles. “We asked applicants at our business to fill out a questionnaire. For the line ‘Choose one word to summarize your strongest professional attribute,’ one woman wrote, ‘I’m very good at following instructions.'” Classic.

9. Ruby vs. PHP

About a decade ago, we were working with a start-up to staff their software development team.  In the process of doing so, our client was also trying to determine the availability of Ruby on Rails vs. PHP resources in the area. When asked for his thoughts on one vs. the other, a candidate became visibly flustered and began to concurrently praise and bad mouth both. He wrapped up his erratic performance with a request for cash to grab a cab back home.

10. Ready Player One

When asked by the hiring manager to describe his most impressive out-of-the-box solution to a challenge at work, the software engineering candidate detailed how he and a network administrator set-up a parallel environment on their employer’s servers that allowed them to play and host MMORPGs on a global scale during work hours. The hiring manager couldn’t decide if he was more shocked by the lack of ethics or shear stupidity of bragging about such behavior. Game over!

11. Hiding in Plain Sight

After four grueling rounds of interviews with a particular candidate, the client felt that they had found the perfect fit for their marketing leadership role. When asked to complete the background questionnaire required to wrap-up the hiring process, the candidate refused. When asked why, she said that her undergraduate and graduate degrees were earned under a different name that she could not divulge because she was in the witness protection program. Her story could not be verified with WITSEC and another candidate was hired. That was weird!