10 Hilariously Terrible Interview Stories
Ah, the future-determining job interview… You’re both thrilled to have it and anxious about how it will go. If you’ve made it to round one or beyond, well done! The company you sought out is impressed enough by your brilliantly curated résumé that its higher-ups want to meet you.
After hours of sleuthing through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google, you might feel confident about your company. You might even have a few pithy, poignant questions to ask your interviewer. If you’re like us, you’ve definitely styled a flawless interview ensemble and maybe even gone for a test drive to the company’s office.
But despite the amount of prep you can do, there’s an indefinite number of variables (e.g., a personality clash, wardrobe malfunction, or misunderstanding) that can cause any interview to unravel into absolute disaster. Read on for some of our favorite—sometimes hilarious, other times painfully embarrassing—interview stories.
Emma, master’s candidate, 26
An incredibly diligent student, Emma had spent hours studying the LinkedIn profiles or her potential interviewers at a Los Angeles–based advertising firm. Emma’s interview went well, and when the inevitable Do you have any questions? question came up, she was more than ready. Unfortunately, as Emma states, “I studied the wrong John Smith in advertising and proceeded to ask my interviewer specific questions about his undergraduate experience at Johns Hopkins and his first job as a copywriter at AKQA, neither of which he attended.” While we’re sure Mr. Smith was impressed with Emma’s depth of research, after her mistaken case of identity, he neglected to offer her the job.
Sylvia, New York gallerist, 31
Donning a beautiful printed silk dress, elegant yet understated black Manolo pumps, and, because of the brisk spring air, a pair of opaque black tights, Sylvia walked into her favorite art gallery with confidence. After majoring in postmodern and contemporary art history for her bachelor’s degree, she was interviewing for her dream post-college job—the gallery owner’s assistant and, essentially, mentee. Unfortunately, over-preparedness did not work for the newly minted art historian. “New heels were not a good idea for me,” recalls Sylvia. “Fresh soles, stockings, and a pristine gallery floor equaled the most epic slip ’n’ slide I’d ever performed.”
Victoria, fashion and beauty editor, 27
Whether you’ve seen The September Issue, read Grace, or been attune to the fashion world’s infamously brutal, cutthroat industry, especially for entry-level employees, then you know that assistant positions at top fashion houses or publications are highly coveted. Five years ago, Victoria was one such future fashion editor looking to land her first job in the industry.
“I was interviewing for an internship and wearing this silk Proenza Schouler shirt that had little hooks to fasten it up the front,” says Victoria. “As I was walking in, the hook right in the middle somehow broke off, so my shirt was basically hanging wide open. I decided that the only way to handle it was to keep my arms crossed at all times (including while shaking the hand of my interviewer). Needless to say I looked insane (and unfriendly). Now, I pretty much always carry safety pins with me.” Despite this episode of indecent exposure, Victoria got the job and is now an adored fashion and beauty editor.
Helle, mother of six, 55
After using all of her savings, borrowing an outfit from her mother’s office attire, and making her first international flight, Helle arrived at the Swedish offices for Pan Am. The waiting room looked more like a Sports Illustrated casting studio than a hiring post for “air hostesses,” as they used to be called. Out of 300 applicants, only 12 would be chosen to represent and serve the airline.
Thinking her chances were slim to none, Helle made no attempt to veil her trademark honesty and dry humor in pleasantries. After the interview, Helle joined a fellow interviewee and her boyfriend for a drink. As she sipped her Aquavit, the fellow interviewee’s boyfriend asked, “Aren’t you a bit chubby to be interviewing for this?” With her lithe form, naturally blond hair, and superior intelligence, all Helle could do was laugh. And, as it turned out, Helle got the job while the male model’s girlfriend did not!
Valerie, master’s candidate, 26
Not all interviews that result in job offers are good. Unfortunately, Valerie learned that after enduring a year in the inappropriate environment of a New York–based digital marketing office. “The interview mainly consisted of the agency’s managing partner talking about himself and his rather absurd views of recent grads … with few questions directed at me about my undergrad experience or goals for the future,” said Valerie.
“I should have been a bit more wary that I had not been asked any intelligence- or knowledge-based questions. The massive red flag that I completely missed was when the interview ended with him looking me up and down and saying, ‘There is just something about you that seems older.’ While I assumed he meant my maturity level as a recent grad, I later realized this wasn't the song he was singing when his questionable behavior around the office developed into a lewd, adulterous relationship with another recent hire.”
Bella, freelance writer, 26
Bella’s first traumatic interview experienced happened during her senior year of high school. It was a Georgetown University college admissions interview with an alumnus whose views were far more conservative than Bella had anticipated. “I got into a fight with the alumnus about the fact that they wouldn’t sell condoms on campus, because it’s a Catholic school,” says Bella. “I’m pretty sure he thought I was a 17-year-old sex fiend, when really I was just a pain-in-the-ass liberal.” Georgetown didn’t come knocking, but an Ivy League university scooped up the young, opinionated future English major.
Helen, research analyst, 25
Helen was a history major with one year of fundraising experience in the nonprofit education sector. In a quest for a fast-paced work environment and with a curiosity for finance, Helen decided to apply to a series of investment banks for a two-year analyst program. Throughout her six aptitude/personality interviews, Helen was especially forthcoming about her lack of financial and Excel experience. Fortunately, she thought that her wealth of knowledge about the investment banking industry seemed to impress her interviewers.
After three hours of questioning and an extra-long, extra-fancy lunch with senior analysts, Helen thought she was in the clear. Unfortunately, her super interview day culminated with an hour-long Excel test, including a detailed debt-financing scenario. After 37 minutes, Helen turned in her blank spreadsheet and sat at the conference table mortified by what she thought was a miserable fail. “Before I left the office,” said Helen, “I was given the job. The senior vice president said he was impressed by my intelligence, hunger, and ambition. And while I did fail the test, Excel was something that could be taught; strong potential could not.”
Chloe, client relations, 24
Fresh out of college, ambitious, and ready to take on the surging world of tech startups, Chloe applied to a number of entry-level positions. Clearly the hiring manager who asked Chloe for an interview had never conducted a proper one before. Her questions crossed the line into heavily inappropriate territory, and her unprofessional manner was especially disconcerting.
Chloe describes how she was asked everything from “How long does it take for you to get ready in the morning?” to “How often do you work out?” Apparently, the interviewer wanted to determine whether or not Chloe was quick to mobilize and if she lived a healthy lifestyle. The startup manager’s lack of bedside manner was a massive turnoff, and Chloe declined her same-day offer.
Dan, private investor, 33
Dan, a rising star and soon-to-be–senior vice president at a top San Francisco–based private equity firm, had been recruiting and interviewing private equity analysts coming out of two-year banking programs for the last several years. While many budding financiers would, to quote The Devil Wears Prada, “kill for the job” Dan was in charge of filling, one prospect clearly had not thought through the opportunity. “I had a candidate just get up and walk out of the room mid-conversation,” recalls Dan. “We were talking about his college experience, and then he just says, ‘Sorry, I can’t do this’; gets up; and walks out.”
Grace, photojournalist, 22
After four years of studying international relations between the United States and the Middle East, Grace was excited and extremely well prepared for an interview at a prominent New York–based think tank. Thinking she was ready for any policy-based question, Grace entered her hopeful place of work only to be greeted by an unanticipated challenge. “When it started,” said Grace, “the interview was in French.”
The cheeky hiring manager had zeroed in on the fact that the summer activities section on Grace’s résumé included a Parisian term abroad after her freshman year. Let’s just say that Grace, while well versed in the historical and current relationships between the U.S. and Iran (and usually proficient in French), was entirely unprepared to speak, let alone conduct an interview, in a language she had not practiced for nearly three years.