Job Interview Nightmares: What Not to Do

Group Job Interview

Let’s be real: interviews can be nerve wrecking!

And with all the advice available about what to do or how to dress, it can seem like a never ending battle to figure out how to get the process right.

Well, newsflash: there’s no perfect template to interviewing. Different interviewers are looking for different personalities and skillsets. Plus, some interviewers are honestly just as nervous as the interviewee.

Instead of giving you another list of what to do, I spoke with my sorority sister, Ashley. She is currently a Regional Recruiter and experienced in interviews on both sides of the table.

I asked her about some of the biggest interview nightmares she’s encountered, so you can learn from their mistakes.

Q: What is the worst mistake you’ve ever seen on a resume?

A: You would be surprised how terrible so many resumes are! From blatant falsification (don’t lie if you’re applying for an internal position) to selfies, height, weight, photos with celebrities, religious status, number of children – I’ve seen it all on a resume before.

Resumes usually fall in one of three categories – terrible, good, and, very rarely, excellent.

Most mistakes peoples make are relatively minor (spelling or grammar errors, too much information) and are easy to overlook.

Q: What was the worst interview you ever sat through, and why?

A: I once had a phone interview with a candidate who told me he had looked me up on LinkedIn before the interview, and proceeded to tell me multiple times how pretty and smart I am.

It was not in a flattering way – more condescending and creepy. It eventually came out that he had been terminated in the past for inappropriate behavior – not surprising!

Q: We’re all told to do research ahead of time and show up dressing appropriately for the company/role we’re interviewing for. What’s an example of a time someone didn’t do this?

A: I once had a candidate refer to my company by the entirely wrong name, multiple times. Then, when corrected, he said “Oh, isn’t that the same thing as ‘Wrong Name?’”

Another time I had a candidate show up for an interview with a shirt unbuttoned to his navel for some reason. No one wants to see your chest hair at your interview.

Q: At the end of an interview, the candidate gets a chance to ask the interviewer some questions. What are some of the worst questions you’ve been asked and why?

A: “Are you going to hire me?”

It’s an aggressive question to ask. If the answer is yes, I usually can’t tell you because there are other decision makers, approvals, and things I need to consider, sometimes even other candidates.

If the answer is no, I don’t want to tell you that plainly to your face. I don’t know how you are going to react.

A better way to ask a similar question is “Do I sound like a qualified candidate?” or “Do you have any questions regarding my qualifications?”

Q: There’s an art to following up after interviews – sending the right form of communication, following up at appropriate times, and not overdoing it. Can you share and example of a time someone butchered this art form?

A: Candidates often get carried away when they’re excited about a job, and I like excitement, but be reasonable.

Hiring usually involves multiple decision makers and multiple candidates. I’m working around vacations, conferences, illnesses – it can take a while!

One call or email following the interview to reiterate your interest, and another if my stated timeline has passed is understandable.

There is a point where candidate follow up becomes a nuisance, though –14 calls over a weekend, daily emails, and calls to my boss are all ways to move yourself from “great candidate, let’s move forward” to “doesn’t understand professional norms, pass.”

Q: Has there ever been a time where an interview was going great, and halfway through the candidate did something that completely derailed the interview? If so, what happened?

A: Absolutely! I’ve had otherwise great candidates say something blatantly racist or sexist mid-interview – that will stop an interview then and there.

Q: So we’ve heard some nightmares. But what about a time someone nailed their interview… What really stood out about the candidate, the interview, and the follow up?

A: Rockstar interviews are the best! They’re so easy because I always finish the conversation knowing we are going to hire the person.

These candidates all have a few things in common:

  • Showing up prepared, understanding the company, the role, and how their experience qualifies them for the position.
  • Giving insightful answers to questions, providing good examples while revealing their personality.
  • Asking thoughtful questions – questions that show they were listening during our interview and didn’t just google “questions to ask at an interview” in the parking lot.
  • Following up and being obviously excited about the role. They also usually reference something specific from our interview – one candidate and I connected over working at the same restaurant in college, and she mentioned that in her follow up email.

Q: If you could give a new job seeker only one piece of advice, what would it be?

A: Remember that everyone is nervous during interviews, and one hiring manager’s perfect candidate would be passed over by another manager for the same position.

It can feel very personal because it is you getting rejected, but really, it’s not you – it’s you, in a vacuum, based on one piece of a paper and a few conversations, compared to other people with similar backgrounds.


Ashley Hauri is a Regional Recruiter with Herc Rentals. She has worked in recruiting and human resources for 10 years in a variety of industries including nonprofits, retail, and the construction industry. She has a degree in Political Science and Sociology from the University of Missouri.

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