Lifehacker asked their readers for their worst job interview story and there are several below. I’ve interviewed well over 1,000 people during my career and there are many classics, but the one I remember the most was when I interviewed a guy for a cashier position in the early 80’s. He was in his 30’s and had a lot of retail experience and interviewed pretty well. As part of our process he was required to pass a test that measured 3 things: potential for drug abuse, potential for theft, and potential for violence. You had to score above 80 on all 3 to be eligible for hire.
The people that would fail would usually fail under the theft part, but if they used drugs regularly you’d also see them fail under that. After they complete the test you call the results into an operator who then gives you the scores. If someone failed you’d get a number like 65-95-95, which meant they failed the drug abuse part.
So with this guy I call it in and the operator says the score is 85-85-9. I said “You meant 90, right?” And she says, no, that’s 09. I had never had anyone score less than 80 on the violence part, so that’s a little scary. I was an assistant at the time so I tell my SM and he says “You get to tell him he failed.” Thanks, boss! I go into where he’s waiting and tell him he didn’t pass and we can’t hire him. We would never get specific about why they failed, just told them they didn’t pass, but he says “I failed on the violence part, huh?” I gave him a look that said yes and he says “Well I suppose that’s not surprising, since I got fired at my last job for hitting a customer in the face.” Glad he wasn’t too upset about not getting the job.
Here’s the stories sent into Lifehacker:
The one with the nosy CEO, from GingertheDoc:
While applying for my pre-doctoral internship placements, I interviewed at several agencies in a space of a few weeks. Only one was notably terrible:
I arrived about 20 minutes early per usual and needed some of those minutes to locate the correct offices in a large 12-story building. When I entered the waiting area, no receptionist was present, so I rang the bell. When the receptionist returned, I was greeted in a surly manner and given forms to complete (the kind that were copies-of-copies-of-copies-of-copies), all of the information being requested was easily and clearly available on the online forms required for the interview process, but alright. I finished the forms with about 10 minutes left until my appointment.
I was not seen until 45 minutes after my appointment was scheduled. Neither explanations nor apologies were provided.
During the interview itself, the CEO asked me no fewer than three times if I was bilingual in Spanish; I am, and that information was noted in at least four places in my application materials (required to be lengthy by the process). She also spent at least half the interview time telling me about how I should behave (apropos of nothing in the interview), and asked personal questions about family (do I have children?) and religion. The other interviewer appeared clearly uncomfortable with her questions and attempted to ask more relevant questions. At no time during the interview did the CEO pronounce my name correctly (my names are fairly to very common). At no time was I given an opportunity to ask questions or provided with more information about the agency’s various programs, in which I would be working if I ended up there…
When the interview was over, I left with a nasty feeling and no sense of what a year there would look like in terms of the actual work. I went back and forth, then submitted my rankings with them at the bottom thinking “better something than nothing.”
At 11:40pm, I logged back on to remove them from my list…only to realize that the rankings closed at midnight EST…and I lived in California. The day for results arrived and guess what? I matched to this lovely place.
I spent an absolutely awful year there, with very little choice to continue. I could say much more about the actual placement year because it was badbadbad, but suffice to say: I should have listened to my gut to begin with.
TL;DR — Trust your impressions and your feelings; people who seem terrible up front are generally terrible all the time.
The one with the really nice guy, from Matt Carter:
Interview at a medium sized company, guy tells me at the end of a 2-hour long interview “Well, you’re a good candidate, but we’ve already made a decision to go with someone else.” K, great, thanks for wasting my time. He said he already had the interview on his schedule, and didn’t want to be rude. Swell. Fast forward 3 weeks later, I am working in a different (much better) job, get a call from the guy offering me the job. I said, “You told me that you were going with someone else.” He says “N-n-n-no I didn’t!” Click.
The one with the karma, from psychodog:
I’m interviewing for a position with a successful family business… About 30 minutes into the interview (interviewing with the dad and son, CEO and President, respectively). Dad says, “where do you go to church?” I dodge the question with a “not sure what that has to do with the job responsibilities”.
A few minutes later, Dad asks, “how many times have you been married?” Again, divert the question and wait for the next one. Son’s phone rings, gets up to take the call and Dad makes small talk for a minute. Son comes back and says the interview is over. Tells me they couldn’t have someone who’d been divorced working for them (seems they had someone run a public records search during the interview).
I tell them that’s not a valid criterion and their questions were illegal. Son says they don’t care it’s their business and they run it the way they want. I did celebrate a little when, a few months later, it was revealed that their “good, Christian” Controller had embezzled $2.1M.
The one with the buggy production code, from JustDoIt:
Had an interview for a coding position. They handed me a chunk of code and asked me to interpret what it does. They gave me a pad of paper, said they’d give me 20 minutes, and on the way out said, “oh there may be a bug in there.”
So I worked through the code in my head (it was a statistical analysis program), and after a while I found a flaw if numbers had too many decimal places. When they came back, they asked for the pad back. I had 3 lines of numbers written on it. I then commenced to explain to them what the program was. They wanted to see my work, but agreed what I calculated was correct. I told them I ran the numbers in my head. Then I explained the error I saw in the decimal precision, which were the 3 lines on the pad. They became very annoyed, and told me that this was actual production code they use, and there were no bugs. They said I wasn’t going to be a fit.
I got a call two weeks later, apologizing, and explaining I was right about the bug. Their own QA folks never caught it. They asked if I would come back to interview, but I already had an offer in hand for another job.
The one with the confusing homonym, from Nick Foote:
I pulled an amazingly cringe-worthy move in one of my first interviews. I can’t believe how stupid I was. The interviewer got to the question of: “Do you have any convictions?”
I sit there and ponder for a quite a few seconds, and then I say “Well, no, not really.”
The interviewer just stares are me with his mouth slightly agape. I thought he means convictions as in “firmly held beliefs” as opposed to “convicted of a crime” which is a standard interview question. Not only was he surprised that it was taking me that long to think of the answer to a yes or no question, but then to have me give an wishy-washy answer. We laughed about it, awkwardly, and then I didn’t get the job.
The one where this dude needed a solid, from Brometheus:
… I answered an ad I found online for a marketing position. They were hiring and after a brief, normal phone interview, they called me in to interview in person at their office which was about 45 minutes from where I was living. I was pretty desperate so the commute was not too worrying…
I was called back to the office after a few minutes of waiting when I met my interviewer, who I was 100% certain was not a day over 18. I have a bit of a babyface, but this dude really had it. He starts the interview and immediately seems like he’s over-anxious and very nervous as he starts asking all these questions that seemed out of place for an interview. Questions about hobbies, interests, a little about past jobs and whether i wanted to break out of the normal “9-5 grind” because that’s what they strove for.
He said that given enough time, I could run my own branch back in my home city. Eventually, he starts talking about the job, but in really vague terms like “customer-oriented” and “mobile.” I started questioning what he was presenting me when he told me “If you get the job, you’d only market for one company. Our people only do one company.” So I asked him what company. He side-stepped the question.
We go back and forth again before he mentions the one company thing again. Again I ask which company and again he sidesteps it. Now I’m not so sure and I must of shown through my pokerface because he immediately talks about getting me back in for a final interview/job shadowing. At the end, I schedule the final interview, but ask him what company. He gives me this sheepish grin and says “Quill.” So I go home and look it up.
Turns out this marketing position is actually a business to business sales position, one of many that Quill likes to use and I’m immediately greeted by stories about predatory, demanding sales goals and door to door solicitation. I call back to the office and leave a message for him telling him I am not interested in the job anymore because I didn’t think it was a good fit. Over the next four days the guy who interviewed me calls me 15 times. I let everyone go to voicemail, but the last one was the most ridiculous. He called at 10:30 pm and I could hear bar noise in the background. The dude starts asking me if I was sure I wan’t interested and ends the call on a really depressing note: “Do me a solid, man. My boss told me if I don’t hire anyone I have to go back on sales…” Needless to say, I did not do him that solid.
The one where you can’t live in Burbville, from kcunning:
It had been a great interview. People loved me, especially the woman who would be my boss. “You’re like me, ten years ago, which is EXACTLY what I asked my boss for!” I was super excited, because the job would mean more money, more upwards mobility, and doing something I enjoyed.
Then, things got weird.
My boss asked where I lived, and I told him. It was about an hour away, but in our area (let’s call it Burbville), it wasn’t unheard of to have people commute over an hour to work. That’s just how it goes in our region. He appeared to mull it over.
“So, you’re planning to move closer?”
“Um… unless I read the potential salary wrong, no. This is a crazy expensive area, and rent and cost of living are much cheaper out where I am.”
“Yeah, but… You’re living in Burbville. It’s not very… nice.”
Note here: Our city is often maligned for being a ‘ghetto’ or a ‘hood’, mostly because it’s the last affordable city in this area, and because it’s not 90% white.
“…Our crime rate is one of the lowest in the region, we’re right off of the two major highways in the area, and our schools are excellent. It’s not fancy, but it works for me.”
“Still, you’re planning on moving out here, right? What about the commute?”
“I’ve commuted further for less, and the commute is my problem, not yours.”
He paused, and I thought he was going to let it drop. Then he looked at my hand.
“You’re married. Doesn’t your husband make enough for you to live out here?”
*gritting my teeth* “His salary isn’t your problem either.”
A week later, I got the call that they went with another candidate who lived closer. The woman who would have been my boss was pissed, because the other candidate was vastly less qualified.
While I’ve had worse interviews (one left me in tears afterwards), that one was a cold bucket of reality water where I realized how shitty the world could really be.
The one with the heart-breaker from the other side of the table, from StephanFH:
I was doing loss-prevention interviews for a Fortune 100 corporation (since defunct). The people I interviewed had already passed through two interviews and a resume screen… Essentially, anyone I was interviewing was going to be hired, as long as they passed the final hurdle. Me.
Loss-prevention interviewing is an interrogation, not an interview; it is adversarial immediately. I asked questions that assumed guilt in their posing. I asked not ‘have you ever stolen from an employer?’, but ‘what was the largest thing you have ever borrowed from an employer?’
On this day, I was interviewing a very bright young lady. She was interviewing for a position where someone dishonest or influenced by someone dishonest, could steal a lot of money. She was mid-twenties, neatly-groomed, well-dressed and well-spoken. I was going to give her an OK based on enthusiasm from her prior interviewers, but went through the minimum questioning.
Then, absolutely unsolicited by myself, she began to speak about her fire and motivation for the job. She was on the way back from hell. She’d been an addict and a prostitute. She had two boys at home, whom she had just gotten back from State Family Services. She’d been in recovery for a little over a year. She was building a new life and was looking forward to the new opportunities this job would open. Outstanding! I was in recovery myself and I knew how honest and hardworking people who had overcome problems could be. I was enthusiastic about hiring her and she could see it…
Just before she left, she shyly told me that her boyfriend and father of her two boys, who had just been released from prison for dealing and armed-robbery, had just been released from prison and had moved back in to her apartment. He wasn’t dealing, just using a little bit, and things would all work out. After she left, I took a few minutes, then shit-canned her application. I can still see her happy face as she left my office.
The one with the fire drill, from oly0015:
Fire alarm goes off. Guy runs off for 10 minutes and comes back, says it’s a fire drill and to continue while its wailing. Come to find out at the end of the interview the building is on fire…
The one with the third wheel, from raising hellions:
Got to an interview early. While waiting in the reception area, I saw a restroom out in the lobby, so I decided to go and check my makeup. I’m in there, got my makeup all spread out on the counter, and a woman in a suit comes in. We give each other the tight little smile of acknowledgement that you do when you meet a stranger in a public bathroom. She went into the stall and I went back to my makeup.
The next thing I hear is the sound of that poor woman exploding ass. Never heard anything like it before or since. I start frantically grabbing all my makeup and brushes and stuffing them back into my makeup case so I could get out of there and let the woman continue to explode in peace, but then the smell hit. It was so bad, I honestly thought I might puke, so I grabbed my stuff and ran, leaving a trail of dropped lipsticks and eyeliner.
Guess who was my interviewer? Both of us almost died when I was shown into the room. It was the most awkward interview ever. She was red to the roots of her hair the whole time and could barely even speak out of embarrassment, but she had a colleague in the room with her so there was no way to make light of it and try to clear the air (har har). At one point the colleague had to take over because she just. couldn’t. even. He was mystified and I wanted to find the nearest hole and crawl into it. I have no idea if the answers I was giving made any sense at all. It was just so cringeworthy.