Job Interview Horror Stories: What NOT to Do

By Starshine Roshell | Friday, June 12, 2015

Job hunting ain’t easy. We’ve all been there—and some of us at lynda.com admit to making some pretty embarrassing mistakes along the way.

It’s our hope that by sharing some of our egregious job interview errors—and those of other people we’ve met along the way—we might spare you, dear reader, from having to learn these lessons the hard way. Or at least give you a good chuckle.

If you’re looking for a job, here are some tips from both applicants and employers on what not to do during the interview process:

I also sent off a cover letter with a first-sentence typo because I was so excited to send it out that I didn’t proof it carefully.

–Jolie Miller, director of content, Business

When I was trying to move from Southern California to San Francisco, I got an interview at a real-estate magazine in downtown SF. I drove up, stayed with a friend, left a half hour early for the appointment—and had no idea what a nightmare parking in downtown SF was. I circled and circled, freaking out, and finally found a spot. I was 15 minutes late for the interview and of course didn’t get an offer.

My sister-in-law’s first question while interviewing with the extremely competitive Teach for America was, “Can I defer if I’m accepted?” Uh, yeah, she wasn’t.

–Willem Knibbe, content manager

I was interviewing for an internship with a small software firm after the first year of my MBA at the University of Tennessee. I wanted to dress the part of an astute graduate business student. I put on a nice dark Brooks Brothers suit, crisp white button down, and a safe red tie. The front door of the building was locked. I knocked. Moments later, a young kid in a tank top and baggy camo shorts greeted me.

“Can I help you?” He looked confused. “I’m interviewing with Phil today,” I replied. He smiled, “Oh, the MBA. Follow me.”

That day I learned a great lesson: Researching the culture of the industry and the firm is essential. I was the only person in the building wearing a suit. Jokes were made at my expense all day—to my face. The COO said, “Don’t you know ties cut off the blood supply to your brain?”

It was humbling and funny.  Lesson learned.

–Todd Dewett, Business author

A young designer was referred to me by a well-respected designer. He came to the office in flip flops, torn jeans, a beanie, and greasy hair. When he opened his portfolio case, a cockroach ran out. The work was a mess, torn, wrinkled, and dirty. I asked him why it was so bad and he said, “I forgot about this interview until I woke up an hour ago.” He wasn’t hired.

–Sean Adams, Design author

A friend of mine is an HR manager and he interviewed a guy who arrived on a motorcycle, and kept his helmet on for the whole interview—only raising the visor to answer the questions!

–Chris Croft, Business author

Once I was in the middle of an interview when I got something in my contact and had to stop the interview to take care of my eye, which had teared up and was in searing pain. I had to pop the contact out in the middle of the interview and hold it.

Another time, I did the entire interview and realized afterward that I had spilled my mocha down the front of my blouse earlier.

But I got both jobs!

–Juliana Aldous, content manager

Other interview no-no’s:

  • New college graduates who bring their parents to interviews in order to help with negotiations. Never allow helicopter parents in the interview!
  • New college graduates asking if the hours are flexible. It’s your first job—get ready towork!
  • Job candidates who literally don’t know anything about the job. Do the research! Start with the job description, then work your network, and start Googling. There is no excuse to show up completely ignorant.
  • Job candidates (new college graduates) who show up and want to negotiate when they will be promoted. What?! You’ve done nothing yet!
  • Job candidates who show up smelling like a brewery. They may have showered, but the previous night’s activities are still lingering… Not going to get hired.
  • Job candidates who ask about drug-testing possibilities. This, of course, is like carrying a huge sign that reads, “I smoke weed!”
  • Job candidates who answer calls on their smart phone during interviews!

Final tips from the hiring desk:

When people put “reading” as a hobby, I never believe them, so I ask them what they have read recently, or what their favorite book is. Often they are stumped. Don’t put “reading” unless you really read!

I hate it when people have a CV summary full of clichés like “Dynamic self-starter with a passion for creating excellence.” Into the trash they go!

–Chris Croft

I always say that job-hunting writing should be thoughtfully donelike you do an online dating profile: lots of careful thought into how it will be received and what the other person will think.

–Jolie Miller

Closing the Interview, Page 3

As discussed in the last couple Tips of the Weeks, it is important to close that deal and make a great impression.
1. OVERCOME CONCERNS/OBJECTIONS/HESITATIONS
After you have asked your lead-in question (see last week’s tip) if the employer hasn’t set up the next step there is still work to be done. The employer may still have genuine concerns or may create concerns to see how you handle the situation. Use FEB selling to overcome the objections (this was in a previous posts). Until you feel you have overcome all of the hesitations that the employer has, only then should you proceed to step 2.
2. CLOSE FOR THE NEXT STEP/JOB
Now you are on the home stretch. The bases loaded and you’re up to bat. The good news is, you are almost done! The bad news is, this is the most important part. It is absolutely crucial you ask the following questions:
For initial interviews: Where do we go from here? Can we set that up right now?
For final interviews: Where do we go from here? When can I start?
Don’t forget, as you have practiced your close, the employer is thinking of ways to strike you out. Some “strike out” statements are:

  • I still have more people to interview.
  • I will be getting back with _______.
  • I will be letting you know in a couple of days.

Beware of those smokescreens. DO NOT be fooled into thinking you will get the next step. If you don’t set up the day, date and time of your next interview, it probably will never happen. As a rule of thumb, attempt to get the next step 3 times. You may have to refer back to overcoming objections/concerns/hesitations to achieve this goal.
*As with everything, there may be an exception to the rule. The interviewer may not have the power to set up the next step because s/he may not have access to the next interviewer’s schedule. Or, you may be the first of several candidates they plan on interviewing. At least find out if the interviewer will be recommending you for the next step. You want to make sure that you are not being blown off.

Closing the Interview, Part 2

When closing your interview consider it like you are closing the deal on a product.  The customer is the interviewer and you are the product.  It is up to you to sell yourself and how you close the interview can make all the difference.

Asking Lead-In Questions is an important component to wrapping up the interview.  The purpose of a lead-in question is to identify if you did your job of selling yourself in the interview. If asked properly, these questions will pull out objections/hesitations the employer may have about hiring you for the position.  Below are some examples of lead-in questions or you can develop your own.  Think of what questions the interviewer will be thinking of when s/he makes his/her decision.

     How do you see me fitting in? 

     Am I the kind of person you are looking for?

     Describe your ideal candidate.  Do you see me as that type of person?

     Describe to me your top person… Do you feel I have those same qualifications?

     Are there any concerns you have about me filling the position?

     Can I count on your recommendation for the next step?

     How do I compare to other people you have hired? 

You want to make sure that you fit in with the culture of the team you will be working with and the company in general.  Employers put a high value on this.  You also want to make sure the interviewer feels that you have the right skill set for the position.

Before the interview, your recruiter will tell you what attributes they are looking for so you should be thinking about how you fit those attributes and be ready to counter any indication the interviewer makes about you NOT having that skill or attribute.

Closing the Interview, Part 1

When you close your interview imagine you are closing the deal on a product.  The customer is the interviewer and YOU are the product.  It is up to you to sell yourself and how you close the interview can make all the difference.  This will demonstrate your communications skills and your interest.

Asking Question is one important component to wrapping up the interview.  If asked properly these questions will pull out objections/hesitations the employer may have about hiring you for the position.  Choose 3‑5 questions for your interview.

NOTE: Never ask a company about sick leave, paid vacations, holidays or other benefits that allow you to get away from work.  Your recruiter can handle that for you.

Below are some example of questions to ask.  These questions are guidelines.  Use your own creativity.  It is important to be yourself in an interview.  Employers will quickly see through a memorized and over-rehearsed question.

  • What have you liked most about the company? What have you liked least?
  • What expectations does the company in the next 5 years? 10 years?
  • Could you please describe a typical day?
  • What does the training program consist of?
  • What are my opportunities for advancement?
  • How are promotions evaluated?
  • How is performance evaluated?
  • What are your expectations of a new hire?
  • What is your competitive edge?
  • What is your company doing to gain market share?
  • What are your company’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • If you had to isolate 3 things that determines a person’s success with your company what would those be?

Selling yourself in an Interview

During the interview it is essential that you SELL YOURSELF.  Feature-Example-Benefit Selling, also known as FEB selling, is a fabulous way to do this!  FEB selling teaches you to effectively sell yourself by using personal examples.

FEATURE:        a fact that sets you apart from other people.
EXAMPLE:       a specific, personal example that supports your fact.
BENEFIT:          how your fact and example benefit the employer.

For example:

Feature: I have a strong work ethic

Example: While attending college full-time, I worked 40 hours a week to finance my education.

Benefit: I’m used to working hard in order to achieve positive results.

By using the examples above, we come up with this statement

“I have a strong work ethic.  For example, while attending college full-time I worked 40 hours a week to finance my education.  What this means for [XYZ Company] is that I’m used to working hard in order to achieve positive results.”

Read the job description and pick out buzz words and incorporate them in your FEB.’s.  Examine your background and consider what your Example would be for each Feature and how you think it will Benefit that company

Take the following opening from an actual job listing:

As the leader of the team, you will ensure maximum reliability and effectiveness of information produced, enabling leadership to make well-informed decisions. The successful [candidate] is a clear communicator, highly analytical, and possesses the necessary skills and experience to develop a world-class finance team. The ideal candidate has a collaborative attitude, makes thoughtful decisions in a timely manner and never hesitates to roll up their sleeves to execute a broad range of financial management responsibilities.  You have an eye for detail, hold yourself to the highest standard and are obsessed with coaching others to success.

The emphasized phrases represents the features this employer desires.  These should be a focus of your interview and your key selling points.

Other Features that employers’ desire are: Resilient, Goal-Oriented, Motivated, Persistent.  Having solid examples of such features and reasons that they are beneficial and you will have a successful interview!

Don’t for get to follow us on LinkedIn

Be Prepared

Being prepared for an interview is one of the most important tools you can have when going into an interview.  Your Staffing Consultant will brief you on your upcoming interview but it’s up to you to be prepared.

Being prepared can be divided into 3 parts:

  1. Knowing yourself
  2. Knowing the company
  3. Have questions

Knowing yourself includes being able to come up with ready answers to questions.  You do not want to memorize a speech for each question but it is important to have an idea in general about what you want to say.

Knowing the Company involves actually going to the Company’s website and seeing what they do.  What industry are they in?  What service do they provide or what do they make?  Doing this will also help you in Step 3.

Have Questions.  Interviewers want to see that you have interest in the company.  They will recognize that you have done some research.  Focus your questions on what your role will be on a day to day basis.  Who you will be report to and who will be reporting to you?  What other teams will you interact with?

Salary and benefit questions should not be part of your initial interview.  Of course, these are important questions which is why having a Staffing Consultant to guide you is helpful.  S/He will have a notion of compensation and will make sure that the salary range and benefits meets your needs before presenting the opportunity to you.  If you are having difficulty

Remember, you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression with a potential employer.  Make sure you start the interview process on the right foot!

Before You Leave For an Interview

We emphasize being prepared for an interview because it is so important.  Being Prepared = Confidence and that will help you present your best you!

Here are some tips to before you even step out of the door:

Dress for Success Whether you know it or not, even before you open your mouth for the first time, a hiring manager will notice what you are wearing and will form some sort of opinion about you.  Nobody says it’s fair, but that is an undeniable fact.  Don’t let your first impression be a negative one.

Even in the casual work environment of Silicon Valley, many hiring managers like it when candidates dress professionally for their interviews.  And, yes, you will be better dressed than anybody that interviews you, but it shows you care and are eager to impress.  Again, this is another way to differentiate yourself from your competition.

  • DO wear a suit (everyone should have at least one)
  • DON’T over accessorize. one set of small earrings; one ring
  • DO be conservative – No Stilettos or Cowboy Boots
  • DON’T wear too much cologne/perfume

Your personality should come out of your mouth, not your appearance.

Get the directions before you leave.  Yes, I know, your phone has GPS and you can map it when you get in your car.  Well, think of it this way, what happens when you look at the estimated time to get there and it is 10 minutes after your interview should start?  Be familiar with where you are going before you head out the door so as to avoid the next tip…

DO NOT BE LATE.  You should be there 10 – 15 minutes before your interview.  When you map your destination see how long it takes to get there and add 5 minutes per every 15 minutes to your travel time.  You never know about traffic in the Bay Area (except for the fact that you can usually expect it to be bad).  If you use public transportation, look at the schedule and find the train/bus that will get you there on time and pick the one before.  If you show up a half hour early, take a stroll to clear your head.

Tell your Friends and Family about your interview.  The best advice is to LEAVE YOUR CELL PHONE IN THE CAR.  But with many of us being dependent on our cell phones, we find that we have a hard time doing that.  If you fall into that category, give your friends and family a heads up.  You do not want a call to interrupt your interview.  When you walk into the interview, turn it OFF.  If for some reason you fail to heed this advice and your phone does, in fact, ring during your interview, quickly turn the phone off without looking to see who is calling and apologize.  Not once, apologize twice.  And if you’re dumb enough to actually answer the phone during the middle of an interview, you may as well stand up and head for the door.

Don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn!