Interview mistakes you wish you could take back

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When I look back at pictures of myself from years ago — specifically the 1980s — I cringe. The jeans, the ill-fitting shirts, the hair gel. At the time I thought I looked cool and no one told me otherwise. Alas, the pictures do not lie. I have the same feelings about my earliest job interviews, where I thought I was smooth and polished. I was actually a fumbling mess. I remember telling an interviewer that, no, I didn’t know anything about the company.

Looking at a recent CareerBuilder survey, I suppose many other job seekers share the same face-in-the-palm level of embarrassment about some of their missteps. For the survey, employers were asked to name some of the most notable interview mistakes they’ve witnessed, and they gave some whoppers. As outrageous as some of these missteps are, I’m sure we’ve all had interviews we wish we could take back. The professional equivalent of acid-washed jeans, if you will.

Here are some of the most entertaining responses:

  • Candidate wore a business suit with flip-flops.
  • Candidate asked if the interviewer wanted to meet for a drink after.
  • Candidate had applied for an accounting job, yet said he was “bad at managing money.”
  • Candidate recited poetry.
  • Candidate applying for a customer service job said, “I don’t really like working with people.”
  • Candidate used Dungeons and Dragons as an example of teamwork.
  • Candidate filed fingernails.

Even if you haven’t exhibited interview behavior on this level, you might have still left an unfavorable impression behind. According to employers, these are the most common mistakes candidates make during interviews:

  • Dressing inappropriately
  • Appearing disinterested
  • Speaking negatively about a current or previous employer
  • Appearing arrogant
  • Answering a cell phone or texting during the interview
  • Not providing specific answers
  • Not asking good questions

In the full release, CareerBuilder Vice President of Human Resources Rosemary Haefner offers several tips on how to avoid being the candidate who is singled out for exhibiting strange behavior. Perhaps the most important piece of advice she gives is to practice. The more prepared you are, the less likely you are to ramble or say something you’ll eventually regret. Read the rest of the release for more tips and examples of interview faux pas.

So how about it, readers: Who else can admit to some embarrassing interview behavior? Surely I’m not the only one.

88 Comments
  1. Pingback: Interview mistakes you wish you could take back | JobsMyriad.com - Employment Agency and Career Placement Service

  2. One of the first interviews that I ever had I was asked what I knew about the company. I also told him that I didn’t know anything. The interviewer then proceeded to lecture me on doing research before going on an interview.

  3. The last thing you want your interviewer to feel is that you are there just hoping to get a job. Do some research on every company you apply for. Make a great first impression by dressing sharply, being humble and gracious, and appearing as if you can get along with any co-worker. Make your interviewer feel (without going overboard) that you want a job with their company for a specific reason or reasons.

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  5. No sympathy. Duh, I need to research a company before I interview? With internet access available everywhere, there’s no excuse.

  6. David Stillwagon: As someone who deals with hiring new employees several times throughout the year, I have never “lectured” someone who didn’t know a lot about the company. Truthfully if you walked into a bank thinking it has something to do with consruction, THEN I’d question you, but otherwise I don’t expect anyone to know much. That’s why I’m here. To speak about what we do and what we expect from you. Don’t feel bad. :)

  7. Some good questions:
    What restaurants are nearby for lunch?
    Is there a casual Friday?
    How long will it take to get promoted?
    Does the company provide coffee and occasionally donuts?
    Is there a holiday party?

  8. This is true, that when ever you attend an interveiw there would be different type of questions , but the common on of all would be (what do you know of this company )

    It is always good to do your home work. As in to know what has it achived in the current market and where was the gretest boom it has achived etc.

  9. I left my last job because I gave up trying to get along with a true bully clique. How can I answer the question about why I left my last job without sounding like I can’t get along with co-workers?

    • Marsha–Try “I left my last job because I found it wasn’t the optimal environment for me to be productive. I am looking for an environment where I can cultivate professionalism and focus on accomplishing as much as possible.”

  10. I was interviewing for a Health & Safety job at a large pharmaceutical company and they asked me what I would do in a certain situation (can’t remember the situation) and I proceeded to answer the question with a (dumb) question that went something like this: “What would YOU do in that situation?” As soon as I said it, I felt my face turn beet red and I continued the interview with a cold sweat that lasted a solid 4 hours! As I choked down my lunch, all the while feeling like I was going to vomit, I just kept playing that answer back in my head!

    To top it all off, at the end of the day, I received a tour of the laboratory facilities and received a lab coat to wear over my suit. Right after the tour, he told me to put my lab coat in the “dirty clothes” bin. At this point, I was starting to feel better about the second half of the interview. He then said that he was going to pass me off to HR to close it out. He asked me “Do you have your guest pass get back into the Admin Building?” I looked down and my cold sweat came back immediately! It was attached to my lab coat!!! I told him and he said that I could just leave from there!! LOL I was humiliated! I drove to the airport from there with my head hanging and had to call my wife and talk to her as if it went well! I couldn’t tell her I bombed our chances of a better life! As time has gone on and I have aced more and more interviews and my career has developed, that always sticks in my head as the WORST EVER and I hope it stays that way!

  11. I had a really hard time during interviews. I just didn’t feel very good about myself and just felt like I was bragging. Until I bought The Ultimate Guide To Job Interview Answers. It tells you what to say to those tough questions. With this book I got my dream job and I love it!
    Click Here!

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  13. When I interview I really rehearse typical questions and I’ll answer them more than once just to retain good posture and voice ethic. I’ll be the 1st to admit it has worked. As a youngeon I’ve bombed a few fast food ones but didn’t know any better. But as I matured Ive faced the world with a positive attitude and stood tough.

    I previously worked for our City’s Gas Dept and the Assistant Director, who’s name I’ll leave out, asked the dreaded question; “Do you know anything about Gas?” Of course feeling like a dog with a ton of Dog catchers surrounding me I broke the ice by saying, “I know my stove at home is natural gas and that every month I recieve a dreaded bill that I must pay or i’ll get cut off!” and he chuckled and went on about what it is the dept does for the city. It saved me.. and I wasnt lying.. I hate opening up the bill!

    One tip I can pass on to everyone reading this is when an interviewer ask.. “What do you believe you need to improve in yourself?” Don’t be arrogant and say, “nothing” Wrong answer that tells the him/her you are full of yourself.. everyone and their mothers has something wrong with them. I’ll tell you my answer for every interview I have.. I need to slow myself down and not feel like I can’t leave at 5:00 if I still have work on my desk. I have tendencies of wanting to help everyone and know everything there is to know about the company I work for. An interviewer WANTS to hear that your aggressive and eager to learn.

    Last bit of advise.. when the interview is clearly over and they asked if you have any questions.. ASK. Theres your opportunity. And when they stand to see you leave, reach out your hand and thank them for taking the time out to get to know you and wish them good luck on their decision.

    GOOD LUCK AND HAPPY INTERVIEWING!

  14. How do you not act negative about a prior job that you were fired from due to failure to meet impossible goals(turn a company around after ten years of losses after 2 years of employment without additional monies to modernize facilities for improving competitive position)? The big CEO at the parent company did not like me, because like most USA managers, I was direct and offended his annointed status by challenging him in the company of his peers (Board members). I have since learned to explore the social etiquette of businesses in other cultures before applying American styles of management.
    I basically tell my prospective employers that I left under mutually agreed upon terms that I was not a “fit” for the position. Fortunately(or not) I became gravely ill 2 weeks later and spent 4 months in the hospital which by itself, was reason enough to leave your job.

  15. I would answer the question ‘why are you leaving your current job?’ with a statement like this: I am looking for a position with a company that challenges me and gives me more opportunities to learn and grow as an employee.

  16. I went to an interview that a head hunter strongly suggested that I purchase a new suit, a white shirt and red tie. The manager who interviewed me was also dressed very well for a supervisors position in a manufacturing.

    As we walked around the plant, the cuff of his pants dropped and the serated bottoms were dragging the floor. When we arrived at his office, he took a stapler and stapled a cuff on to both of his pants legs and complained about being required to “buy a new suit and shirt and tie.

    I fell down laughing and he joined in the absurdness. That was one of the best interviews and best jobs i have ever had

  17. I once had an interview in a hotel cafe. It went really well and I was sure I nailed it. Then right at the end I leaned on the table, it wobbled and spilled coffee all over the interviewer. She gave me that look of death and I know I would never hear from her again.

  18. I was looking to relocate to another state for personal reasons and was actively sending resumes. I was sitting at the airport one Thursday evening, waiting for my flight for a relaxing weekend (read: No professional attire in my suitcase) when one employer called and since I’d be in the area, requested I come in for an interview the next day.

    I had to explain that I was packed for a leisure trip and didn’t have professional clothes with me. The recruiter said that was fine under the circumstances.

    I intervewed in blue jeans, open toed-high heeled sandals, and the nicest shirt I had available – that of my boyfriend’s and two sizes too big.

    I got the job, clearly on merit and my word that I “could” be trusted to be put in front of customers.

  19. I remember a bad interview in which I really screwed up. I had lost my job due to major personality conflicts with my boss. He was frequently out of the office for non work related reasons (at the gym, shopping, drinking). Also, if you did not have breasts, you did not get any recognition or assistance from my ex-boss (sales manager). So, after a major argument between us he fired me. That was fine as I could not stand him anyway (he was fired six months later for sexual harrasment). I went on an interview with a competitor and totally trash talked my ex-boss, only to have the guy interviewing me tell me that the two of them were good friends. Needless to say I did not get the job.

    • Never, ever trash talk previous employers. The current interviewer may think you could do that to them one day, and they don’t know what your hot buttons are because  you’re a stranger to them.  If you’re trash talking your employer it makes you look bad.  It just goes hand in hand.  

      • Great point – if you’re going to bash a former employer, the person interviewing you is going to assume you’re just going to turn around and do it again.

  20. Without a doubt, interviewing for jobs is very hard. Thanks for telling me about your experiences – especially the bad ones. They help us all. My most recent interview was for a temporary job that involved a federal grant and what I believe was an interview quota. They already “had their people” but had to interview others to make it appear like they truly went to the “public.” The interviewers were real passive and seemed to let out a sigh after it was done. Both gave me a limp handshake and that was it. Be watchful of this when going for public sector jobs in research.

  21. To all applicants, especially new graduates…..Please clean yourselves up. When we say we do random drug tests, we mean it! We also do at least one right after you are hired as a condition of employment. I’ve had 2 new hires in the recent past sent home for failing the test. Make sure ane prescription meds you are taking are done so under a valid and current prescription! And NO illegal drugs! Come on guys!

  22. I hate the question,” Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” I always want to tell them the truth, that growing up I wanted to be a housewife and that is what I still would like to be. But because of life I have to work. My answer now is usually something like going after your job, not retired or at home.

  23. I have a stock answer for “Where do you see yourself in X years?”

    I smile and say, “Sitting right here as you tell me I’m being promoted again, and that hiring me was the best decision you ever made!”

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  26. Honestly, if you have a “blame game’ mentality/persona – people will pick up on this no matter what you say. Blame just oozes out of people like this. If this is you, work on changing – that’s the beauty of life – we can change :-)
    However…. if you truly were the victim of a bullying clique, I think the interviewer will ask what professional steps you took to ammend the situation.
    OOOOrrr.. maybe the interview won’t even “go there”. Simply put your current state of mind and pursuits in a very professional presentation, “I would like to work with a TEAM where WE share a common vision of _________.” I see that your company has an outstanding track record of _________ and I would like to CONTRIBUTE to this TEAM. ” Get the buzz words? Hope this helps :-)

  27. Update your phone message – if you want a job

    Years ago, I would look at the engineering intern resumes. Decide who looked like a good fit call and set up the interviws. After going through a stack, I came across one that looked very good, excellent school for technology, worked during the summer in the field and other details. I called to ask if the person could come for an interview.

    To this day I remember the voicemail message.

    Godda*&*& leave a Fu*&*&*& meassage and maybe we will give you a Godda&^&^ call back.

    Needless to say, I did not leave a message or call back. It may be funny to your buddies, but if you want a professional job, its not a good impression of you.

    Sue

  28. I had just graduated from Globe College 1989. I had an interview in Jan. 1990–winter, right.
    The interview was in downtown Minneapolis, MN; at this building that incidentally had a name as two other buildings within 6 blocks of each other. Of course, I parked in underground parking–only in the wrong building and had to walk 5 blocks in heels to the correct building.

    I got to the correct corner, standing there waiting for the light to change–I was splashed with gutter slush right across my feet and dress slacks. Okay, I dealt with it, went onto the interview.

    I was sitting next to the young lady–who was older than me–and my purse fell off a chair that I set it on, spilling all my contents over the floor. Needless to say I knew then that I was not getting this job.

    Lesson learned: Do not bring a purse — no matter how little is in it to an interview. Just bring the necessary papers for the interview.

  29. I had an interview with three supervisors, and was thrown a pair of unanswerable questions: Which Starship captain are you most like, and why? Why are manhole covers round?

    I am generally prepared for asenine questions like this, and answered both of these questions like a pro. I got the job. I left after six months, when I realized that my coleagues were gimicky and cliche, and they had no real sense of teamwork or colaboration.

  30. I interviewed for a teaching position at a prestigious university, having been careful about dress, mannerisms, etc. But I goofed by saying that I knew another candidate for the position was a young man with a family and probably needed the job more than I did. I don’t know why I mentioned that, and I could hardly believe the interviewer when he told me later what I had said! Sometimes generosity can go too far!

  31. Pingback: Things you might not want to say or do at an interview | Career Services Blog

  32. I just interviewed some applicants for a position at an Urgent Care Clinic. One lady actually said she didn’t like being around sick people. Another one came in and said, “I think I may have an interview today, but I’m not sure what time.” she was told the time, but she didn’t show up for the interview.

    The job was part-time and the hours were posted in the ad, but one person said she had a class that got out late and asked if it was okay if she was 20 minutes late. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.

  33. 1. What are the best questions to ask to makesure if the organization or co. you are interviewing with does not tolerate a**holes, bstabbers or bullies at all and how can you find out whether these totally unacceptable beings even at the highest level are thrown out?
    2. Also, are there any organizations in the world besides one in Brazil where employees don’t have to report to a boss but are totally self-managed and given utmost autonomy?! The world must be like this and it would be the best dream if a world law was like that.
    3. Lastly, what could a good person who always acts his best, BUT AT WORST RUNS INTO A BULLY or Too Toxic of a BOSS AT EVERY JOB and HIS/HER FAULTY BOSS JUST WON’t GET CANNED W/ ALL ACTION TAKEN DO FOR HIS WELL-BEING AND SUCCESS?!!! He or she (the underling) doesn’t deserve to work for the bad boss w/ the problem despite he or she who is the underling being best with effort and has such a clearly great personality and it is the bad boss at fault that needs to come to justice. What is an underling who deserves best w/ WORST LUCK here to do for his/her career success?

    • The very FIRST thing you should do, Sam, is to STOP whinning! Holy mackeral! Grow a backbone, move on if your are not happy. You are the only one that can change your luck! Think positive, read the SECRET or something.
      Good luck!

  34. I had an interview once and it was a group interview (which I hate) and they asked me a total left field question, “What does ‘Rules are Made to be Broken’ mean to you?’”. For some reason the first thing that popped in my head came out of my mouth and my brilliant response was “Some rules are just stupid”.
    I still can’t figure out why they wouldn’t want me as their employee…………

  35. I have done lots of interviewing in the past. Resumes were sent online. The first thing I did was spell-check them; if there were any errors I immediately deleted the candidate. If you can’t bother to spell check what is supposed to be your best effort, I don’t want you in my company.

    I also had one candidate try to negotiate salary (which was stated in the ad) over the phone before her interview. I let her know it was non-negotiable. She then claimed to be sick and cancelled her interview. She called back the next week (probably after not getting a job she thought was a sure thing) to reschedule the interview. I told her it wasn’t necessary, she was off the list.

    Another candidate ruined her chances before even sitting down. She came into the room and immediately hugged me!

  36. I have been interviewing with companies since the past 3 months now as a fresh graduate and these are seriously the common mistakes that I did, but recently I have got the key trick to win an interview, (1) Do research abt. the company (2) Tell the interviewer only the things that they want to know and nothing else (3) Be polite ! Be humble ! Be patient ! … Do not jump to conclusions let the interviewer explain his question fully and then answer in a very very humble manner… most of the positions I lost were due to my vocals .. I have a rough voice normally which led me to being considered as arrogant, all people who were hired for those vacancies were soft spoken as I figured out later.

    Hope this helps for others.

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  44. I went to an interview in the medical profession and had worked at my previous employer for 9 years. After telling them about my job history which started in the 70′s. I have to tell them I was convicted of a misdeamenor dwi 10 years ago. Also my previous employer let me stay on 8 more years. I am known as a hard dedicated worker. Then they say tell us about your conviction. I tell them it was a huge mistake and I haven’t even gotten a traffic ticket in 10 years. What else should I say?

    • @Sue–First, find out if you can have your DWI record expunged in your state. Sometimes, if a certain amount of time has passed, you can make an appeal to the judge who convicted you, or you can find a lawyer (free in some cases) who specializes in expungements. Next, if you are unable to do this for some reason, just explain that your conviction was 10 years ago, and you have completed a program which educated you in a productive way. Keep in mind when you are pleading your case, don’t sound like you’re pleading your case; i.e. don’t whine, or tear up, or explain with hostility as if you are treated unfairly. Just own it and leave the rest up to your potential employer. Display remorse but save the self-pity.

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  49. I would much rather be interviewed then be the one doing the interview.
    When I interview I always try and get the interviewer to start talking about them selves and there achievements show them respect and give them your approval and you will get the job.

    Also if they ask you something and you don’t know the answer don’t lie to them just tell them you are always in touch with the right resources to get the answer.

    On a hiring note I has to interview a new QA Manager for the company I was working for I had no experience and they guy I was interviewing had tons of experience. No way I should have been his boss but that is life.
    For the interview the job seeker was not supposed to wear a suit and tie so he showed up wearing a FUBU shirt and new sneakers so when he came in and sat down the first question I asked him was so you’re a redneck? I thought he was going to lose it he sat there a second regained his composure and polity said no. He turned out to be a great employee.

  50. I once went on an interview with a major medical device company and was expected to be there fore half a day, with 4 interviews, foloowed by a luch meeting with two of them to eb=nd the interview. Al the interviews went along very well, and the lunch meeting was much more relaxed and informal.But I did learn one thing at a lunch meeting, and that is to be careful of what you order. It was at an Italian restaurant. After I exited the restaurant, made my last pitch of how interested I was in the position and would be a good fit, etc., I returned to my car, looked in the rearview mirror to adjust it, and noticed tomato sauce on my tie. Who knows how long it may have been there during our lunch meeting, but I almost died right there in the car, and wrote that job offer off. The next day they offered me the job with a higher salary than I initially expected. Go figure.

  51. I once went on an inteview and i wore a black dress that had flowers that hung below the knee and a black jacket over it. I felt uncomfortable because i didnt have a basic blue or black pants or dress suit. I couldnt afford to buy anything else and my older suit was too worn. The guy that interviewed before me had on tathered jeans a tshirt and some flip flops for an interview with a law firm. I felt a little better but i didnt get the job. Someone else recommended me because they worked there and I thought the interview went pretty good. But they hired the other guy. He was recommended by someone who worked there also. He worked for about a 4 months according to my inside person and then quit because he said the job was not what he thought it was. It was kind of discouraging and I turned down a job because this job was in my field. I learned two valuable lessons. 1. never turn down a job when your broke and you need one waiting on a job in your field. 2. Sometimes you get called for interviews even though the person hiring had already decided who they were going to hire.(unfair and a waste of time.)

  52. I found out recently I lost out on a great job in the Cleveland area a few years ago because of the “Tell me about your dream job” question.

    I had already successfully passed through two rounds with the managers and the team I would be working with, and had one last phone interview with an executive (whom I had not met) to seal the deal.

    While I knew it still counted and I still had to watch what I was saying, I figured it was a formality after the longer group interviews and made the mistake of literally answering the dream job question. I didn’t say anything ridiculous, but my dream job was slightly different (and in a different industry) than the job I was applying for and saying that knocked me out of the running. The team I met wanted to hire me and offer me the job, but no dice thanks to that final phone interview where I answered that one question slightly incorrectly, with someone who wasn’t even in the same state.

    I never would have known that was where I had slipped if someone hadn’t told me a few years later. Lesson learned, and I’ve since seen this advice, stay away from specific jobs when asked that question. Say your dream job is one where you look forward to going to work every day, feel supported by management, get to contribute on a daily basis, etc.

    This isn’t exactly rocket science, but watch yourself with every question, no matter whom you’re talking to! I still kick myself after all this time.

  53. Hello there my buddy, the things you’ve basically written here absolutely have got all of us interested up to the last word, and I must say to everyone that I seldom look at complete content in weblogs as I usually got uninterested and even tired of the particular gibberish that is definitely offered to my opinion everyday and just lead to looking over all the photographs as well as the headers etc. Your tag-line and also the first paragraphs were superb and yes it quickly got myself simply hooked. Commending you actually on a work done well within here. Thanks

  54. Ha ha, my worst job interview was actually my best. I knew the field extremely well, and was constantly keeping myself updated. When entering the interview I was confident and more than ready. I ended up passing the interview with flying colors, and answered each question quickly and correctly. When it was all said and done we stood up and shook hands. Then he looked at me and said “I need to ask you one more question, are you a smoker?” without even thinking i looked up and said “Yes I smoke…. Oh you mean cigarettes?” With a funny look on his face he asked what else i smoked, then made an eye gesture towards the door. At this point I knew it was time to leave.

  55. Great entry here you wrote. I did find Dr. Simeons had some good points he shared when he chose 129 individuals for his weightloss experiment back in the early 1950′s. Crazy they were all able to loose off loads of weight in less than 43 days. Research his name and find out more or mouse on my name. Have a good day friend.

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