Everyone loves an amusing anecdote about someone else’s faux pas, and the more excruciatingly embarrassing the better. We take a look at some real-life interview indiscretions. Just make sure you don’t fall into the same traps…
…and yes, names have been changed to protect the (not-so) innocent
Oversleeping for an early morning interview can result in the rather unfortunate situation one interviewee landed herself in. Desperate to make it there on time, Diane Saddler dressed quickly and fled her house, arriving just in time to be ushered in. On sitting down in front of the interviewers, she realised she was desperate for the toilet, but was too embarrassed to excuse herself. “After all,” she says, “they would wonder why I hadn’t gone beforehand.”
“It was about 15 minutes in when I felt something warm in my underwear and realised I was wetting myself,” she recalls. “I couldn’t stop and when I looked down at the floor there was a massive puddle.” Needless to say Saddler didn’t get asked back for a second interview. Remembering to set her alarm clock would have saved her one of the most embarrassing days of her life.
No flies on me
Of course, arriving with plenty of time for an interview is no guarantee that disaster won’t strike either. When Peter Williams went to meet an interviewer in a hotel lobby bar, he was immaculately dressed and got there early.
However, his fatal mistake was going to the bathroom to freshen up, with pre-interview nerves meaning he also needed to relieve himself. “I had the interview,” says Williams, “and everything went well. So I left the hotel and was getting into my car when I looked down. To my horror I noticed my fly had been right down for the entire time.” So freshen up and use the toilet yes, but triple check you’ve zipped up.
The write stuff
One thing to avoid in an interview is getting at cross purposes with the interviewer. Switch off for a few seconds, and you can totally miss the point of a question. That happened to Maddy Rogers and everything unravelled.
“The interviewer asked me how my writing was,” she remembers. “It could have been the way he phrased it, or I might have lost my focus, because I answered: ‘I think it's pretty good, but my husband always complains he can't read it even though I print everything.’
The interviewer looked at Maddy as if she was crazy. And then clarified he was asking her about her command of English and her ability to write reports. “I got the chance to answer again, but it was too late,” she says. “Didn't get the job.”
The moral here is keep concentrating and think carefully about the question before answering. Would an interviewer really ask how your handwriting is?
Knowing it was rude to chew gum during a job interview, Jonathan Walters looked round for a bin, but couldn’t find one. “I was too nervous to ask any of the employees for one, so I spit it into my hand just before the interview started.”
During the interview, Walters completely forgot about the chewing gum and gave his interviewer a rather unpleasant surprise when saying goodbye and shaking hands.
Chewing gum should be avoided at interviews, but if it needs be disposed of beforehand and you can’t find a bin, the left hand is the one to use.
Accidents will happen
Bob Chapman was on his way to be interviewed for his dream job when disaster struck. He crashed his bike into a car, flew through the air and landed heavily on the road. He picked himself up and dashed off to the interview, arriving a little late, explaining what had happened.
His interviewers were really concerned, but Chapman assured them he was fine to do the interview. It was only afterwards when he visited the company’s toilet that he realised he looked like he’d been beaten up, had a rip up the back of his suit and glass in his hair.
“I felt really embarrassed, but they actually saw it as commitment and I got the job!” he recalls. Even so, a quick phone call to rearrange the interview and a trip to casualty would probably have been more appropriate.
Nervousness can make a person stumble over their words, which never looks good in an interview. Sometimes it’s also possible to say the wrong word, which can be extremely embarrassing if it’s inappropriate.
Tina Woodford was asked why Hawaii was one of her favourite places. "I don’t know what I was thinking,” she says, “but I was really nervous and said it was because it’s so erotic. Of course I meant exotic. I was mortified, and got even more nervous, so when the rather surprised interviewer asked what I’d said, I blurted out erotic again! At that point I knew it was all over.”
This is a tough one, but the answer is to give an embarrassed laugh, apologise and correct the error – not repeat it like Woodford did!
Setting alarm bells ringing
You can also get clumsy when you’re nervous, so it pays to be extra careful on a company’s premises. Gemma Stevens certainly wished she’d paid more attention at one of her interviews.
“I tripped up coming out of the lift where I was having the interview and hit the fire alarm, which set it off,” she recalls. “The problem was there was no one around, so everyone thought there was a real fire. I was far too embarrassed to tell anyone it was my fault, thinking it would certainly jeopardise my chances of getting the job.”
Stevens was ushered off the premises, returning later with her interviewers once it had been established it was a false alarm. She got the job and never revealed the truth to her employer.
A major headache
Megan Drury was getting ready for an interview, when she cracked her head after bending down to pick up some hairspray. “I knew something was wrong,” she says, “as I felt quite dazed, but didn’t think it was serious enough to cancel the interview."
Drury got through the interview, but started to feel worse once she had left, so took a taxi to the hospital and found out she was suffering from mild concussion. “Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that the injury can lower your inhibitions. The next day I received a phone call from the HR director saying I’d blown the interview, because I apparently swore throughout the entire interview."
Doing an interview when you’re feeling ill is never a good idea, no matter how good the job is.
Of course, it’s not just the interviewee who can embarrass themselves. "During one interview, the interviewer was leaning back on his chair, when it tipped over," recalls Diane Duthweiler. “I was mortified. What’s more, it was clear he was stuck,” she continued. “So I got up and put out my hand to pull him up, but couldn’t budge him."
Duthweiler stepped outside to get help, where all the employees were laughing and asking what happened. Eventually her interviewer freed himself and continued the interview. "I was in a complete daze, figuring my chances of getting this internship were zero,” she says. “But we finished the interview, and to his credit, a few days later he called and gave me the job."
Very early bird
Thinking he was 20 minutes late for an interview, Dave Bradshaw who had been delayed in traffic on the way, rushed up to the receptionist, apologised profusely and asked if she could tell her boss he was there.
“I’d gone there very well prepared and was desperate to show them what I could do, but the receptionist just stared back at me blankly, seemingly very confused, and told me he wasn’t available,” he recalls.
That was because Bradshaw had arrived a day early for his interview – and sadly he didn’t get the job. Being too early is just as bad as being very late, so make sure you check your dates.
Two’s not company
Taking a break for lunch during a day-long session of interviews, Karen Seeley ran into a former female work colleague she hadn't seen in two years in the company canteen.
“We both exclaimed what a coincidence it was, and I said I didn’t know she worked there,” says Seeley. “She said that she didn’t, and was there for an interview. It soon became apparent we were going for the same role. Talk about awkward!”
So there are some embarrassing moments you simply can’t guard against no matter how hard you try…