Workplace Stories

Most Awkward Job Interviews


We Asked HR Professionals: Tell Us EVERYTHING About the Most Awkward Job Interviews You’ve Experienced

I wanted to come up with an article listing the dos and don’ts of job interviews. Something like the usual what to say, how to dress and a list of 20+ tips to help you prepare for The Big Day.

But there’s already so much data ‒ articles, videos and infographics – promising to give you the secrets to questions like “Why should we hire YOU instead of someone else?”

I’m sure you have read dozens of articles like that. I have. Engagement Trends is not about rephrasing the usual tips and clichés about the professional world. We won’t pretend we can help you “ace” the 50 common interview questions – because, quite frankly:

  • Do you really want to work for someone who needs to go through a list of 50 questions?
  • Everyone else including Forbes is already telling you how to do so.

Of course, I started reconsidering my previous job interviews. It was inevitable. See, there is something annoying with our brains that makes us super conscious about the little things we might have done wrong – and we start wondering ‒ even months after something happened ‒ if what we said or did came up as weird. “What did they think about me?”, “Did I say the right thing?”, “I hope they understood what I really meant…”

I had to assess my weirdness levels.

So, naturally, I asked our Human Resource specialist. Because, well, she’s the specialist. This is how it went:

– Hey! I want to write an article about job interviews.
– Hmmm.
– Would you mind sharing anecdotes about weird job interviews you conducted?
– …How much do you need?
– No rush… It’s not like you don’t have to give me something right now.
– No, but I mean, I have too many. You don’t know how weird people can be.

“You don’t know how weird people can be.”

My first thought was: There you go. There is probably an HR manager saying that exact same thing about me somewhere in the world right now. But then my curiosity was piqued. I wanted to know just how weird people could be.

So, I went from desk to desk and asked managers, recruiters and other employees to share their weirdest job interview anecdotes. Some of them, I’ll have to check to make sure they’re not movie plot lines. But even then, I was very entertained and now reassured about my being too weird.

The Most Awkward Job Interviews They Ever Experienced

#1: “We were interviewing someone with a really interesting resume and her personality seemed to be a fit for the company. Everything was fine until we asked her about her previous employer. Her whole facial expression changed and she bluntly said she didn’t want to talk about it. Then, probably realizing her answer came as a little too harsh, she said she was not allowed to talk about it because they were in the middle of a lawsuit. She seemed very defensive.”

What would you have done differently?

“Obviously, you don’t have to talk about your previous job if you don’t want to. However, she could have said something like: I worked there for x time and I’m now focused on the future of my career. It’s too bad but it was not a fit. I’m looking forward to new experiences and challenges. Something like that.”

#2: I was screening a candidate over the phone. At some point, I asked why he left his previous position at another company. Oh boy. He started sharing very personal and detailed information about how he went back to his country to find a wife. He went on and on about his chaotic love life (involving previous co-workers) and how his parents were pressuring him because of this and that… After I’ve finally been able to steer back the discussion to more of a job interview, I realized all his answers were about never-ending love stories and personal drama. No, thank you.”

What would you have done differently?

“First of all, it’s okay to let recruiters know more of who you are – But this is not a therapy session or tea-time with your besties. Focus on the work experience itself and talk about what you have learned while you were employed by the previous company. Limit the reasons for leaving to a single sentence. No company wants to hire backbiters. What matters is what you have learned about your job and yourself and the skills you gained. Show the recruiter that even if you chose to leave a job or a company for personal reasons, you took an extended package of knowledge with you.”

#3: “Oh I have one! It’s nothing crazy but still. It’s winter time. There’s a snowstorm outside. The candidate arrives for her job interview. She’s on time, so that’s a good start. (You wouldn’t believe just how many people arrive late without letting us know. And that’s when they even bother to show up!). Anyways – I offer to hang her coat for her but she declines. The first part of the interview goes well – except for the fact that she’s still wrapped up in her full winter gear – meanwhile, I’m dying in the overheated room. Here’s when it becomes tricky. We’re a bilingual company and the job description mentions that you must speak English and French. I tell her that, starting from now, we’ll continue the interview in French. She nods. I swear every time I asked a question in French she would answer in English. I tried really hard to switch to French, but it just wouldn’t happen. She was smiling the whole time like nothing was weird. It made me uncomfortable. I started wondering if maybe I was the one who couldn’t express myself properly.”

What would you have done differently?

“Obviously do not lie about whether or not you can speak another language if this is central to the job offer. It’s just a waste of time for everyone. Secondly, maybe she was really cold, but not taking the time to “make yourself at home” screams that you don’t want to be here. I mean, why aren’t you taking off your coat? Do you have somewhere else to be?”

#4: “I used to work in a multinational human resource consulting firm headquartered in Netherlands (yes, that one.) I was basically helping job seekers on a daily basis and one day, this young lady arrives for her appointment. She’s late. She doesn’t apologize. She’s obviously not dressed for a job interview and the first words out of her mouth leave me speechless: “Yo, can I charge my phone?” – No, no, you can’t. And I need a new job.”

What would you have done differently?

“Show up on time. Dress appropriately. We’re not asking for a suit or a slim-fitted white shirt, but ripped jeans and a crop-top? Seriously? Oh, and I like music, music is great but would you please take off your headphones and learn how to be human again? You’re showing up for an appointment. I’m here to help you get a job. We’re 50 seconds in and I already developed a migraine.”

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