10 unusual interview mistakes, and 6 that are all too common

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Most of us can recall an embarrassing moment in our lives that was caused by nerves. Whether it was drawing a blank at a crucial time, spilling a drink on a first date or stuttering through a presentation at work, at one point or another, anxiety has gotten the best of all of us.

One of life’s most notoriously nerve-racking events, the job interview, is perfect for these sorts of foot-in-mouth moments. The combination of excitement and pressure can cloud our judgment and lead us to make mistakes, decisions and comments that we wouldn’t normally make.

Making mistakes is part of being human, and most hiring managers will let the occasional blank stare or fumbled sentence slide during an interview. But there are some slip-ups that you just can’t recover from, mistakes so ridiculous that they’ll completely eclipse any potential you may have in the mind of your interviewer.

What kind of mistakes, you ask? Well, mistakes like the ones below, which hiring managers reported to CareerBuilder as the most unusual interview mishaps they’d ever seen. (Though we’re not certain all of these mistakes were caused by nerves, we’re going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt here — mostly because we can’t bear to think otherwise.)

  • Candidate brought a “how to interview book” with him to the interview.
  • Candidate asked, “What company is this again?
  • Candidate put the interviewer on hold during a phone interview. When she came back on the line, she told the interviewer that she had a date set up for Friday.
  • Candidate wore a Boy Scout uniform and never told interviewers why.
  • Candidate talked about promptness as one of her strengths after showing up 10 minutes late.
  • On the way to the interview, candidate passed, cut off and flipped the middle finger to a driver who happened to be the interviewer.
  • Candidate referred to himself in the third person.
  • Candidate took off his shoes during interview.
  • Candidate asked for a sip of the interviewer’s coffee.
  • A mature candidate told the interviewer she wasn’t sure if the job offered was worth “starting the car for.”

How’s that for some third-party embarrassment?

But before you ask, “What kind of idiot would ask a stranger for a sip of his coffee?” know that it doesn’t take a mistake as bizarre as the examples above to kill a perfectly good interview. There are a plenty of less ridiculous but equally detrimental interview gaffes that job candidates — even smart ones — make all the time.

According to the CareerBuilder survey, the following are the errors job seekers make most often:

  • Answering cell phone or texting: 77 percent
  • Appearing disinterested: 75 percent
  • Dressing inappropriately: 72 percent
  • Appearing arrogant: 72 percent
  • Talking negatively about current or previous employers: 67 percent
  • Chewing gum: 63 percent

So how can you avoid making mistakes — outrageous or otherwise — in your next job interview?

Be prepared, says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “With preparation and practice, candidates can greatly improve their interview skills,” she says. Well-prepared job seekers are more confident, articulate and relaxed — and therefore less susceptible to error — than those who aren’t.

Before your interview, research the company, conduct mock interviews with friends and practice telling anecdotes that highlight your accomplishments, Haefner suggests.

For even more tips on successful interviewing, check out the video, below.

59 Comments
    •  @AidScholarship
       Tips?  Please. Assume, please, Career Builder, that I don’t have my head up my backside and give me something useful.  As for those who arrive late, flip off the interviewer, wear Boy Scout uniforms, take off their shoes, etc., etc., they get what they deserve.

    • i AGREE most of this is just common sense stuff that you should not do on the interview.
      when it comes to a blank stare I do’nt think you can always avoid that simply because it can happen but not on purpose.
      When you are sitting there listening carefully to what the interviwer is saying it is important to look at them in the eye.
      unfortantly when people look to long it may seem overwelming to them or that you are either daydreaming, staring them down, or giving them that blank stare, when in truth you are only listening to what they are saying not any of the above.

  1. As a operations MGR I was the person who made the decssion who got the position. I went out front by recptionist to ask a question. One of the aplicants was just standing there. When I asked him if i could help him he replied, “Man I need a pen” I told him I was not man. He continued to call me man when I asked him how he intended to fill out the aplication. I would advise that any one interviewing LEAVE THE STREET SLANG AT HOME.

    •  @topppgunnn I once witnessed a closing interview at a call-center – the candidate was a young college kid who wasn’t even dressed appropriately (bermuda’s, white shirt, sneakers) – all you could overhear when he was leaving was “you know what I’m saying?” “I know it! You know what I’m sayin?”  LEAVE THE STREET SLANG AT HOME

  2. As someone who has interviewed hundreds of candiates, nothing surprises me anymore! I once had a candidate put her feet up on the chair next to her and tell me about a fight she had with her former boss where she threw a chair at him. Since I wasn’t interviewing for a prize fighter, I moved on ;-)

  3. As a added to my other comment, that would also mean besides the street slang you stop using “you know” and “like” in almost every sentance.

  4. Didn’t know about ‘negatives about a previous employer’ I guess low pay is acceptable, but I had to rethink some of my responses to keep from talking about why I left my previous job (bad shifts, disinterested management, unruly co-workers). Now I just say I went back to school and got a Degree. 

  5. I find nothing wrong with any of those “incidents”:Find my valid explanations below:
    • Candidate brought a “how to interview book” with him to the interview(never badmouth a candidate who keeps reference material around, less likely to “wing it”)• Candidate asked, “What company is this again?”(classic opportunity to say <insert competitor name here> and see if a) they fall for it or b) they were just joking or c) they not only did research on your stupid company but your competition in prep for the interview (impressive).• Candidate put interviewer on hold during a phone interview.  When she came back on the line, she told the interviewer that she had a date set up for Friday.(shows a fine amount of multitasking ability, a positive attribute, along with prioritization, it might be “Mr. Right”)• Candidate wore a Boy Scout uniform and never told interviewers why.(Conversely, interviewers never ASKED.  Duh!  A company who never takes an interest in the interview will barely take an interest when real money is involved, I’m jealous and curious if the uniform was ORIGINAL or a Scoutmaster Uniform, which would be a negative – obviously has too many outside interests to devote to our assignments, LOL)
    • Candidate talked about promptness as one of her strengths after showing up ten minutes late. (Promptness on the job doesn’t always equal promptness to the interview, does it?)• On the way to the interview, candidate passed, cut-off, and flipped middle finger to driver who happened to be the interviewer.  (shows drive and determination, plus a golden opportunity to make one of those people actually answer the obligatory question and even harder interview questions than normal (LOL))
    • Candidate referred to himself in the third person.(Candidate obviously constructed a robot front end to handle the Jedi Mind Tricks that you were going to play on him, well played!)
    • Candidate took off shoes during interview.(Candidate knows how to tailor their uniform to the climate – every good soldier knows to do this to maintain a high operational tempo and make the mission a success)
    • Candidate asked for a sip of interviewer’s coffee.(Not sure if they were really asking the question “What are you drinking to ask me such questions” – and decided to do a field test to find out (inquisitive, excellent!) or part of a longer field test to see if interviewers are using more or less real sugar these days…• A mature candidate told interviewer she wasn’t sure if the job offered was worth “starting the car for.” (an honest question, well put in non-confrontative terms, extra points for tact and communication skill)
    Seems like your next column should be entitled “Passing Up Good Opportunities Whilst A Hiring Manager”…

  6. These do indeed seem rather obvious. Just one other thing to point out: Disinterested means impartial. Uninterested means not interested. 

  7. Here’s one for you, I got dinged on 2 interviews for the same thing but it was reported back to the recruiters that I was bashing my employer. These could have led to continued employment after I was layed off in 8/08. Let me explain, In my line of work software is extremely helpful if not absolute. Under many circumstances, usually beyond my control, I do not have access to helpful or necessary software and am forced to make due without.  At my last job, there was access to said software but my manager made it extremely difficult for me to do the job required and or asked of me because he kept telling me that I didn’t need said software to do my job. This industry does not pay me enough to buy 5-10K software packages to have for personal use, so how do I conquer this issue, find another job?  Been doing that ever since 8/08!

  8. LOL that poor sad soul who flipped off the interviewer…good life lesson here about holding your anger, ’cause you never know.  Career Builder always has good suggestions; however, I agree with the previous comment.  Why would anyone not know these basic people skills?  Aside from being sure to arrive on time, and to have done your homework in re: the company and the position, the other tips just seem like common sense.

    • Sadly, you’d be surprised that this is what employers told us people are doing. Remember, there are people in this world who may be terribly smart, but may no common sense. Hence our endless reminders to pull it together if you want to land a job.

  9. Those are definitely mistakes I see all the time when I go to interviews. I never do those, but see other people doing them all the time. I still can’t believe some people think they will get a job showing up late, dressed sloppily and chewing gum. It’s a given to NOT do those for interviews, but I am beginning to think people these day have no common sense.

  10. There are 9 mistakes are somewhat out of the ordinary, but the 10th one, a ‘mature’ candidate telling an interviewer that she wasn’t sure the position was worth starting the car for is not a mistake, it’s a sad reality. ‘Mature’ candidates are often more educated and experienced and when applying for positions, usually want the higher range of the salary advertised. Employers should be careful when advertising a range to be expected to commit to that range; not change up because the candidate may be ‘mature’ and they feel they can push them around (and that goes for younger candidates too!). It’s a commonplace these days.  Interviewers too must know they are being interviewed by the perspective employee. I’ve been interviewing these past three years and I have seen terrible HR, hiring manager and employer interviewing (they had how to interview books right there asking questions from it!), terrible phone interviews, (you sound sexy, do you look that way too?), bringing candidates in when the position was already filled by a friend or H1-B employee and they’re staring at you like you’ve done something wrong, or the big one of where they ask you to prepare a presentation and never hire you but months later you see your presentation as part of the company’s  “new” initiatives. Prospective employees need to be on top of the interview process as possible, that is true, but it is also important  to mention that employers have the heavier burden of proof and should sharpen their interviewing skills and methods as well.

  11. Any one of these incredibly vague and obvious “interviewing mistakes” would have made an interesting lead-in to an article offering several tips about how to avoid fumbling an interview. Collectively, the list of mistakes makes job candidates sound exceptionally flawed and even ridiculous, while the rest of the article offers very little in the way of assisting candidates to interview correctly. Sorry, but if this article was intended to help, it falls short.

  12. What about the fact that you are a skilled professional, that have attended several interviews and you are always told that this is the beginning of the process.  Well here is my take, I have had several successful interviews and my resume, my presentation and skill levels stand out…Then I am told, that you meet all of our qualifications.  However we are seeking someone a little “Greener”.  Well since this has happen several time I look at this as my age of 56, has limited my ability to lad that position.  Take in account that the job market have been terrible for several years and for the last 6 years I have not been able to land that position now I am older but still strong, active and not ready to retire to the fishing pier.  How is that for interviewing.

  13. there are things interviewees wished interviewers/employers wouldn’t do.
     
    -   pay less for women workers
    -  offer less salaries to minorities
    - offer same ‘bonus’ opportunities as the ‘white guys’ get
     - stop making advances to female workers
    - quit acting like you owe interviewees something
    - rid your company of ecotistical managers

  14. I agree these do seem very obvious.One of the items hit a little home for me, though.  ”Talking negatively about current or previous employers”.  I certainly don’t make a habit of this, however during last full time job, my former boss, a C-level executive, would completely lose his temper every once in a while to the point where he would be SCREAMING and his voice would crackle like a pre-pubescent boy.
     
    In my opinion, THAT kind of attitude is certainly unacceptable and also unprofessional.  If an interviewer were to ask me why I left my previous employer, I would have no problem discussing that situation.  If you’re the type of person who yells and screams at people in an effort to motivate them, than sorry, I’m not the employee for you.

    • Obvious, but all too common. I think you can explain situations that are not healthy work environments or professional circumstances without imposing your own emotional response on top of the experience, as it relates to being overly negative in an interview. State the facts and leave the emotion at the door.

  15. THIS IS SO DUMB…..the writer should be fired for writing such obvious dumb things that even a baby knows…sorry careerbuilder….you need to interview your writers especially Kaitlin Madden !!!!

  16. This tickled me.  I remember interviewing with Ogilvy Mather Houston. The interviewer burped and admitted she ate 2 Big Macs prior to our meeting.  I seemed to know more about the company than she..  People are so strange!    But seriously, nice article!  (I also keep some shoes under my desk because I don’t have room at home!)

  17. I once had a candidate show up for a job interview late, then pull out a blow-up “donut” to sit on and proceed to give me the details of the hemorroid surgery she’d had 2 days before.  This was before we had a chance to even get to the interview. Yikes!!

  18. How about Interviewee blunders????
    My most bozo interview (I was the Candidate) was with the company CEO (arranged by an acquaintance who ironically was leaving the company anyway!) He took a phone call from one of the area plants, in the middle of my interview – which obviously from what I could tell was a troubleshooting call. This bozo kept me waiting half an hour while he “troubleshot” (and quite loudly and verbally, I might add) with this plant supervisor. I was just about to get up, politely excuse myself, and LEAVE -when he FINALLY ended the call. You talk about your self-centered, inconsiderate bosses. This one was beyond unbelievable. Needless to add, we ever-so-politely ‘ended’ my interview, and he “wished me well” (do I need to add I was not offered the job?  Shocking!)  My acquaintance inquired later how things went… Guess what I told her…

  19. I can state with 95% confidence the person asking for a sip o’ joe is a millenialist. I have seen that behavior all too frequently with that generation; share clothes, drinks, food, etc.
     
    As for the “appearing arrogant” I’d have to know what was said or done. Some very insecure, incompetent folk are threatened by anyone with confidence or more knowledge and affix the label “arrogant” to the other person. It’s been my experience that true arrogance is a character trait of those with considerable self-esteem who are afraid of being found out. False modesty is not a virtue, and being confident is not a vice. 

  20. While working as an operations manager, I witnessed an incident where a man tried to enter our gated, guarded compound on foot through a car gate.  When I badged myself through the gate he flagged me down and asked me where building entrance was.  I asked him what he was there for and he said he was there for an interview.  I told him he would have to go around to the visitor gate and buzz the guard to be let in.  The man  ignored my instructions and walked directly from there to the building lobby.  
     
    When I entered the lobby a few minutes later, the guard informed me that this man was there to see me for my 1 o’clock job interview appointment.  I turned to the candidate and said, “I am sorry, I am not interested in interviewing anyone who cannot take simple directions.”

  21. People remember:  the interview starts before you get in the building and lasts until you are far off premises.  Your every action will be watched.  I used to fill-in for the front receptionist during her lunch break, and you would NOT believe how rude some interviewees were b/c they thought I was “only” the receptionist.  Often used crude and abusive language was directed at me or friends they brought with them or called on cell phones in our waiting area.  We would always let the hiring manager know if the person was late or rude, and that person was never offered a job even though the hiring manager saw nothing but their best behavior.  He knew it was even more telling how the person conducted themselves when they thought no one important was looking.

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  23. Having worked in the recruiting industry for over 15 years, these interviewing mistakes don’t surprise me in any way! Id have to add this one – one time we had a candidate remove a turkey sandwich from her purse and proceed to eat it in front of her interviewer!

  24. Thank you for posting this, Kaitlin! That is a very interesting list of “interview mishaps”. I especially like your focus though on interview preparation. As a motivational speaker and author, I am well aware of the necessity of extraordinary preparation, in any situation, to maximize your positive results. I also discuss in my audio program how you only have one chance to make an impact. Many interviewees think that the interviewer is following “the resume,” but with so many employers feeling like they have fallen into “we-hired-the-wrong-person mode,” interviews have taken a turn for the “tougher” and “YOU” MUST be prepared. Preparation is key in the interview process.
     
    Gail Kasper, Motivational Speaker and Author, http://www.gailkasper.com The One Thing That Can Cause You To Fail The Interview EVERYTIME

  25. Looking confident is one of the suggested “todo”s in going to an interview.  I could see how trying to do that could end up looking arrogant.
     
    I kind of wonder why the woman spent the money to go to the interview if she didn’t think it would pay enough to go to the job. Before that, why did she apply for it?

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  27. WHY DO ALL THESE JOB SITES TALK ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER AS THE GOOD PERSON.
    I will tell you there are a lot of not so professional Managers and Recruiters out there as well.
    Why don’t you job informational sites give the true feedback, Its not always about the Candidate during wrong things at interviews.
     
    From a former Candidate and Recruiter

    • Donald, you are right. It’s a two-way street. On our employer-facing blog, we do give tips to employer on how to better improve their interview skills as well as candidate follow-up. However, for this site we try to provide information that helps job seekers be prepared for the best (and sometimes the worst) interviewers that they come across in their job search.

  28. Thanks for the tips. I will never do those things. If I am the interviewer, I will send that person outside of my company. Thanks again.

  29. DonaldWW has a point-it’s a two way street. I have interviewed hundreds of people in my career and also been on hundreds of interviews and have had some awful experiences with companies I have interviewed with…here are a few:
     
    1. I Was flown to Phoenix for a day of interviews with 11 people and then submitted a sample marketing plan per their request-and then the employer NEVER got back to me. I called them and told them I was no longer interested more than 2 months later.
     
    2. Cleared my schedule for a morning of interviews with 4 people at this company-only one of them bothered to show up.They said they would re-schedule-but of course they never got back to me.
     
    3. Same company as above (a brokerage company) asked me to come in for an interview on a Satruday for the convenience of their executive. he was wearing shorts, t-shirt and bare feet, spoke to me for about 10 minutes and acted like I was intruding the whole time. And guess what? They never got back to me
     
    4. have had dozens of interviews where it was obvious the interviewer had not ever looked at my resume
     
    5. Interviewed with a woman who was angry and acted like I was wasting her time becasue I did not have this one very specific type of experience she was looking for even though it was not in the job description nor was it on my resume or cover letter. (see #3)
     
    6. more than once I have submitted online resumes-never received an acknowledgement but did start receiving spam from the company to the email address that was on my resume.
     
    7. Filled out an extensive on line application and questionniare for a job at a University (my alma mater I hate to say) that took about 8 hours to complete and NEVER heard back from them-not even a courtesy decline letter.
     
    With the job market the way it is now some companies just treat their applicants with contempt. i am a hiring manager now and I NEVER treat people this way!
     
     
     
     
     

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  37. I went to an interview where they told me I was too smart and they thought I would get bored with the job in a short period of time.  So on top of interviewers they were mind readers too.  As I said before before I apply for a job I stop and think, do I want to spend 2 plus hours a day commuting to a job that pays $14 an hour.  No way.  That’s why I want out of Seattle.  This place sucks.

  38. On this site, I see all this information about how we, the unemployed screw up in interviews.  While alot of this is valid and I would never dream of doing some of the stuff cited here, what about the people who have jobs, are interviewing you and treat you like some inferior being and they are doing you a big favor by interviewing you.  Screw that.  My former bosses at the company I quit let two women who were close to 70 sit and watch baseball on their monitors and kept passing their workload from these women to me.  Then they (my bosses) would bitch about the overtime in our dept. (yes, these two old broads would put in 12 hours days accomplishing what I could get done in 8)..  They’re still there and I’m sure the BS is still going on.  My immediate boss would complain to me about it…sorry I don’t have time to listen because I’m busting my butt doing my work and their work too.  Talk about dysfunctional.

  39. @JDDUPEE Sorry to hear your frustration with past work experiences, as well as the process of interviewing. Job searching can be annoying — especially when your future relies on hiring managers who seem uninterested. Here’s an article that may explain the hiring manager’s side of the experience: http://cb.com/UDGDfQ. If you feel like you’re stuck in a thankless job search, this article may help you out: http://cb.com/UDGJnH. Also, here’s a new trend in hiring that many job seekers are seeing success with: http://cb.com/SgHU5b. Hope this helps.

  40. Pingback: 10 unusual interview mistakes, and 6 that are all too common | Angela Malagon

  41. I am a recruiter, and don’t want to be put off by applicants’ appearances, but I feel as though the applicant who looks like they slept in their clothes is not showing respect to me  or my company, or is not professional, or is just a careless, thoughtless person.  I see wrinkled clothes, long messy hair (guys), and lots of tattoos.  I work for a professional financial company, and would like to consider some of these applicants, but they really put me off, and I am afraid the hiring managers will doubt my skills.  Am I wrong in thinking that the decision to show up looking like that plays into their decision-making skills on the job?

  42. One thing when writing an article and presenting percentages, provide context too. From your stats it looks like 359% of the people who interview make one of 6 major mistakes. When you say 76%, what does that mean?

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