the overheard self-talk, the shoplifting, and other times you mortified yourself in job interviews

Last week I asked you to share stories of bombed interviews and other job search mortifications. It turns out … there were a lot of stories. So many that I couldn’t fit my favorites in one post. Here’s part one, and part two is coming next week.

1. The coffins

An interviewer once asked how long I planned on staying in the role if I got the job, and I said, “Forever. Does Office Depot sell coffins? I could order one because that is how long I will stay.”

That was not a testament to how much I wanted the job or my loyalty to any role, but more to how much I DID NOT WANT to look for another job. I do not know if it counts as a bad interview because I ended up getting the job, but I do think in the future I will not mention WORKING TO MY GRAVE at an interview.

2. The shoplifting

This is making me remember the time that I interviewed for a retail position when I was like 17. The interviewer asked me what I would do in the event of discovering a shoplifter. I proceeded to ramble about how everyone makes mistakes, how I would talk to the person that I saw stealing and ask them about why they were doing this, and the cherry on the disaster sundae was saying, “Not everyone who steals is bad, I have several friends who have shoplifted before!”

I’m full-body cringing just typing that out.

Quite clearly, I didn’t get the job.

3. The honesty

After getting my degree in chemistry, I interviewed for an entry level bench chemist job at a CMO. The manager who interviewed me asked something like, “Since you’re new to the workforce and this will be your first post-graduate role, what’s something that you worry about with that transition?”

My mind went blank (that’s not a question I prepared for!) and I answered with the first though that popped into my head, “I’m afraid I’m going to hate it.” The manager gave me a quizzical look so I started rambling, “Like, I just spent four years earning a degree in a subject that I love, and what if I start this job and it turns out that I hate it? What am I supposed to do then?”

The manager chuckled and said, “That is the most honest answer I have ever gotten for that question” and kept rolling with the interview. I wanted to melt into the chair and disappear forever. However, the manager hired me and I worked there for three years before going to grad school so I guess it all worked out okay.

4. Miller Time

“In the 90s I worked as an HR generalist for an addiction treatment and recovery outpatient center. We were interviewing a peer-to-peer addiction specialist. They’d need some minor credentialing as they’d spend time with our clients in recovery in our sober rec center in the evenings.

He interviewed so well until he asked at the end of the interview if his shift could end 30 minutes earlier than we had scheduled. I asked why, he said “because the beer store closes at 10, and that’s Miller Time for me.” We all just kind of nodded and moved on. When we saw him leave he had a huge 420 bumper sticker on his car.

5. The last name

I scored an interview for a director position at an animal hospital; my experience and skillset fit their criteria so well, it was as if they tailored the job for me!

One of their requirements was that I prepare marketing information on expanding their client base or I pitch ideas on reducing overhead costs, given assumptions I would make regarding a practice their size. Embracing the obnoxious side of my personality, I decided to wow them with ideas on both subjects. I worked days on my proposals, including polishing support docs which both my husband and dog agreed would seal the deal.

Then … I got a haircut, manicure, new pantsuit/shoes/attaché. I am mortified to admit I even bought new underwear, should tragedy strike and they have to conduct my interview in an ambulance. I mulled over getting a colonoscopy, but I didn’t want to over-prepare.

Interview day arrives! I pull into the parking lot exactly nine minutes early, stride through the door, and glide my way to the front desk.

“Good morning,” I practically sing. “I’m here for my 10:00 interview!” [Broad smile, friendly, but not overly so. Needn’t look too eager!]

The attendant smiled back and said she would notify the doctors. Then she said, “Can I get your name?”

I replied, “Stella….” At this very moment, my fatigued brain decided some downtime was well-earned and quite literally, powered off.

The attendant smiled again and said, “Stella…What?”

My head was so unoccupied by thought, all I processed was the sound of my heartbeat and the sweat droplets starting to burst from my pores.

“Excuse me, Stella. What is your last name, please?”

As God is my witness, I hadn’t the slightest clue in that moment what my last name was. Not only that, I could not think of a single last name of anyone I had ever met or heard about. I couldn’t think of a fruit or a vegetable or plant or a mineral. It was just me and my alarming warp-drive heartbeat, which was making me feel like the paramedics would get a chance to appreciate my new underwear after all.

Like the professional I am, I recovered quickly and said, “No last name. Just Stella. LIKE CHER!” [Weak smile. Needn’t look too pitiful!]

Attendant: Blank look.

Me: “Madonna?”

Attendant: Concerned look.

She excused herself and stepped into the back. I was soon escorted to a conference room with four veterinarians, all clearly eager to spend time with an applicant not able to recall their own last name. The interview actually went downhill from there, and I was not chosen for the job.

However, I am proud to assure you that since then, I’ve been able to recite my entire name – when asked – with a success rate of 100%. Why I am not running Apple or Google by now mystifies me.

6. The bubble baths

I was in my early twenties, interviewing with a middle-aged man. He asked me how I dealt with stress. I said I like to take bubble baths. I even talked about adding “lots and lots of bubbles.” I did not get the job. I still cringe thinking about it.

7. The fart

I farted in an interview and we just ignored it. I did get that job.

8. Tim Gunn

I once interviewed for a teaching position and one of the questions was essentially “tell us about a good teacher you had in the past and what you learned from them.” Again, this interview was *for a teaching position*, I absolutely should have been prepared for this kind of question, but every teacher I had ever had just completely flew out of my head. I had nothing. I talked about Tim Gunn on Project Runway. (Somewhat surprisingly I did get moved to the next round of interviews, although I did not get the job.)

9. The candle

Not my story but I had the misfortune of witnessing it firsthand. We had a job candidate giving a job talk at our all-lecturer writing center at a R1. This was during the pandemic so it was over Zoom. This person had 50 minutes to give us a sense of how they would be a good fit as a director for our peer writing center. All 18+ faculty and 6-ish support staff, along with our director and associated director, made space in our schedules to attend this job talk. The person started it off with a “centering moment”/mindfulness thing – which was to project a flickering candle, and we were all to “center” ourselves before the talk.

IT LASTED FOR TEN MINUTES. The guy spent 20% of his job talk making all of us silently stare at a video of a flickering candle.

I spent most of that 10 minutes pinning all of my colleagues horrified faces and trying not to laugh.

10. The intoxication

I was right out of college and interviewing for management consulting positions. They tend to have many interviews and I was talking to a few companies, so I was doing quite a few of them, and probably not giving the process the attention it deserved. Anyway. One night I went out with friends, and the night got a bit out of control … Woke up the next morning still very drunk, went to my interview and did a TERRIBLE job. Surprise, surprise, I didn’t get the job. The interviewer said I wasn’t “structured” enough and that it was “hard to follow my train of thoughts.” Ahem.

11. The crying

I was interviewing for a job right out of college and they asked me how I deal with high stress situations. I said, “Well, first, I cry.”

Did not get the job. Which was great, because I ended up in one at a different institution, and am still there (with a pension) 21 years later!

12. The confidence

When I was a grad student, a candidate came in to give a faculty job talk about their research. They posted a single slide with a bunch of graphs, sat down, put their feet up on the table, and said, “Any questions?”

13. The brain freeze

I was interviewing for network engineer positions. Ya know, “making the internet work” sort of stuff. One interview, after a few general questions, they handed me markers, gestured to the gigantic whiteboard that took up one entire wall floor-to-ceiling and 20 feet long, and said, “Draw the Internet – use the entire board”. My brain FROZE. I had been a network engineer for 10 years at this point, I knew exactly how the internet worked – but my brain just stopped functioning and I had no ideas ready on how to translate my knowledge into a drawing the size of a billboard. After a few very awkward moments of silence, I drew a cloud and wrote “I” in it, and sat down. No one said anything. I said, “I guess we’re done!” and walked out.

14. The enforced will

In an interview I probably should have bombed, but instead got hired from, I was asked how I managed working in a group.

I have a leadership diploma, and do actually do really well in groups, so I talked about building consensus, allowing time for discussion, clear communication, blah blah blah. However, at the time, I was taking extra courses to upgrade my degree and was the only student over 30 doing a group project with a bunch of 17-19 year olds, and really grinding my teeth through that particular process.

When the interviewer asked me after my discussion of positive group work “what would you do if that didn’t work?” some sort of spirit of dictatorship came over me and I said quite strongly, “Then I would enforce my will upon them.”

15. The self-talk

On the way to the interview, I encountered two accidents that tied up traffic badly so I just barely skated in before the interview time despite having left my house plenty early. I asked to use the restroom before we got started, and when I was looking in the mirror I noticed that a huge zit had appeared on my nose. I said to my reflection, “Nobody’s going to hire you looking that, too old, gray hair, an enormous zit, and overweight. You should just turn around and go home now.” I’d been looking for three months after having been laid off and was feeling very defeated in the moment.

At that point, the recruiter popped out of a stall and, to her credit, acted as though she hadn’t heard all that. I was mortified.

Fortunately, I wowed the hiring manager and got the job. But, lordy, I cringed every time I saw her in the hall for the first six months I was there.

16. The mute

I interviewed under the STAR format and was woefully unprepared for it. After the first question, I sat there in silence. The three interviewers returned the silence. After a full minute someone said, “I believe she’s on mute.” I piped up, “Nope!” and the silence resumed.

17. The coding

I was in the final stages of a job I really wanted and they asked for a technical interview, needing to solve coding problems live on a virtual platform. Between knowing I was being watched and judged, the new program, and general anxiety about coding, I panicked. I misunderstood the first question, tried to overcomplicate it, completely blanked on how to write code in a language I’ve used almost daily for 10 years, and in a grand finale, gave up for a few minutes and put my head in my hands trying to calm down, forgetting that I was still live on Zoom and the interviewers could see me. I will be reliving this for a long time but life goes on and I have a better idea of how to prepare for any future interviews like this.

18. Not a narc

The very first time I was interviewing for any job, I was looking to get a retail position at Victoria’s Secret. I was in high school. When the manager asked me what I’d do if I saw another employee stealing, I said I’d confront the employee about it “to find out if she needed money to borrow” but that I wouldn’t tell management because I was “not a narc.” Remarkably, the thing that would earn me respect from my fellow socialist high schoolers didn’t impress the hiring manager and I did not get that job.

Eight YEARS later, I got a notice in the mail that I was entitled to compensation as a part of a class action lawsuit because that branch had engaged in “working interviews,” having us fold bras and such for no pay. It made me laugh when I cashed my check to realize the people who were actually stealing at that job were the people interviewing me, not the hypothetical coworker in the example they gave.

{ 347 comments… read them below }

  1. NameRequired*

    “First, I cry” Hey, me too! Sometimes you gotta cry first and then solve the problem after

    1. Blarg*

      I got criticized by a coworker once because I cried AFTER I’d handled the (actual life threatening to an actual human infant) situation. She told me I wasn’t being professional. For a moment I tried to defend myself. And then all of a sudden, I realized … wait … you’re just a bully. It ended up being really empowering. I celebrated the day she retired. And last I knew, the kiddo was doing well.

      1. Ariaflame*

        For some people we deal with the situation, we handle it, and the emotional reaction etc. gets put off until there is time for it, but we still need to cope with it at some point.

        1. Dog momma*

          ICU nurse/ postop nurse here.. sometimes you deal with it, then bury it. Not saying its right or wrong. I saw some real bad stuff when I was working. Then again, I’m good to have around when medical stuff starts going south, bc I still keep my head and can make decisions.

      2. Frickityfrack*

        Oh she sucks. A friend of mine works at a children’s hospital and they had a case a few months back that was so bad they warned staff before they came to help so they were prepared. Basically everyone cried when they were done. That’s a normal reaction to a child being seriously hurt. The hospital actually made sure anyone who wanted to talk to a counselor was given time and access because, again, it’s normal to be incredibly stressed/upset in those situations.

        1. Rainy*

          My first husband was an ER tech for a while and he said that the kids who came in were either basically fine or it was really bad and difficult for everyone to deal with and not much in between those two extremes.

    2. ScruffyInternHerder*

      First I cry
      Then I pull my hair up into a wild pineapple style bun
      Then I put on gangster rap
      And freaking handle it.

      (Apologies to the tee-shirt that I saw the gist of this on, but dang does it speak to me!)

    3. Panicked*

      At a previous job, I had a rule for myself. I could cry in the car on my way to a site or the way back from a site, but I’d never cry anywhere else. I used to keep tissues, eye drops, and ice packs in my car to recover after my crying sessions. It worked for me!

      1. Satan’s Panties*

        Ever see Broadcast News? Holly Hunter’s character, a news producer, has a Daily Cry. Sets the timer for five minutes, sobs, goes back to work. This was not in the original script; it’s something Hunter came up with after interviewing real-life women in broadcasting, and hearing one phrase every time. “So I went home and I cried…” And then tackled the problem.

        1. BreakingPandaNews*

          I’ve been a news producer for over a decade and can confirm many days this is accurate.

    4. wendelenn*

      “First, You Cry” is literally the title of a memoir from TV journalist Betty Rollin about her breast cancer journey.

    5. Iyana of Narthalau*

      Ok, but I also said this in my first post-college interview… followed by “then I call my parents.” I did not get that job, though I was honest!

    6. Dark Macadamia*

      Yes! Reminded me of that meme (tweet?) that’s like “are you gonna cry about it or are you gonna boss up? / first of all, imma do both”

    7. Critical Rolls*

      The Bluey/Bingo checklist goes:
      1. Have a little cry
      2. Pick myself up
      3. Dust myself off
      4. Keep going

  2. Bread Crimes*

    The one about “draw the internet” I shared with my spouse (who is a programmer) out of delight–and also disdain for certain interview practices in that field. But I burst into laughter at hitting “Then I would enforce my will upon them” again because, my goodness, as someone else who went back to take some community college courses more than a decade after I got my B.A., I empathize more than is healthy with that reaction.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        That is the reason I should never be given leadership positions. I’m great at collaborating as part of a team, and an absolute tyrant leading one.

    1. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

      I reread the internet one three times and found a new way to laugh at it every time!

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Yeah cuz like I can tell you it’s just going to be someone asking for feet pics and bunch of doodles of…well, you know what.

          1. sparkle emoji*

            I think you could make an argument for the NSFW section taking up most of the board, with the convenient side effect that it also means you have to draw less.

            1. Random Dice*

              This three-quarters, not work appropriate.

              This quarter, cat videos, recipes, shopping, and questionable truths that are heavily plagiarized.

              These post-it notes here, official websites, research, and porcupines.

        1. Nomic*

          I can visualize this very neat, detailed, drawing, and then an arrow pointing to a spot labeled, “HERE BE DRAGONS” with 4Chan and reddit et. al. there.

    2. many bells down*

      SAME. I once “enforced my will” on a group project where the younger folks had created the single WORST PowerPoint known to man. Think neon lime green cursive font on top of a watermarked background image. To make matters worse, they’d tried to jam an entire 3-page paper onto two slides. The whole thing was completely unreadable. And finally, the photos we’d taken of the thing we were supposed to be presenting ON weren’t even used.

      I redid it, but I’ve saved that old one because it’s so hilariously awful.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        The only time I’ve yelled in a team meeting (and a time I really would have liked to have imposed my will) was in college when we were supposed to put together a PowerPoint presentation on the large research project we’d done. You know, the research project that we needed to pass or we couldn’t graduate. One person, realizing he’d done no work on the project, insisted that he and only he would make the PowerPoint. It was so, so bad.

        He then spent the next hour claiming that he didn’t have an opinion on the slide order, but he wasn’t convinced that the one literally everyone else in the group wanted was a good order, and furthermore did we realize how much of his time it would waste to have to put them in a different order? After the group devolved into screaming at each other, we agreed to take the issue to our advisor.

        The professor advising us took one look at the slide order and said, “That’s idiotic, put the example at the beginning,” just like we’d all been saying.

        1. Quill*

          Ooooh, I had that kind of group but thankfully in high school. Where the teachers could get away with “hey, write a two page essay for extra credit and I’ll take care of that absolute shitshow of a group assignment.”

    3. Tiger Snake*

      Here’s router number 1… and here’s router number 2… and here’s the switch – there is only one switch for the whole internet – and now I’m going to start drawing ALL the DNS and hosting servers, this might take a bit.

    4. CowWhisperer*

      I took some undergrad classes at age 31 for an additional certification while spending my days teaching alt ed students who were roughly the same age as the traditional aged students.

      Essentially, I was tired when I got to class and not up for dealing with obnoxious college students.

      After being stuck in a lab for 4 hours because one freshman dingbat in the randomly picked group hadn’t studied at all, I went rogue.

      Instead of picking a number from the hat, I’d ruffle the numbers around while seeing which table had veterans (read: the other adults in the room), look down at the now visible numbers, and select the correct table. I’d smooth the numbers in the hat and sit.

      The prof wasn’t an idiot. She noticed that all the adults were sitting together for 3 weeks in a row and watched me pick a non-random number. She stared at me. I stared at her – then she waved me to the adults’ table.

      I think she was trying to avoid having one or more stressed out adult explode at a freshman – and we expressed our gratitude by giving excellent end of course reviews with glowing open ended responses!

      1. ferrina*

        That was amazing! LW could have kept quiet, and their brain said, “nah, we’re in this now!”

  3. CommanderBanana*

    “It made me laugh when I cashed my check to realize the people who were actually stealing at that job were the people interviewing me, not the hypothetical coworker in the example they gave.”

    Love this. Funny how employers will work themselves into a lather about EMPLOYEES STEALING ZOMG! Remember that according to the Economic Policy Institute, wage theft costs U.S. workers as much as $50 billion per year — a number far higher than all robberies, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts combined.

    1. Phony Genius*

      I wonder where the line is between a simple demonstration of your skill and work you have to be compensated for. In this example, if they just ask you to fold one bra and put it on the display table, would they have to pay for that?

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Doubtful, but if they made you fold and organize the whole bra table, yes, that’s work they’re benefitting from. One bra does not tidy the display.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          It seems pretty useless as a skills test anyway. In my experience, the ability to fold underwear is not inborn and can be taught to most people.

          1. Siege*

            You never met one of the people I tried to teach how to sweep, who I am virtually certain was not weaponizing incompetence at me, just … excitedly clueless about anything. It was like hiring a golden retriever puppy to work fast food.

            1. RLC*

              The image of a Golden Retriever puppy working fast food gave me my first laugh in ages! Had a colleague for many years who I often mentally compared to a Labrador pup. Smart, energetic, enthusiastic, and loooooved to run around the landscape and run into most any nearby body of water (we worked in natural resources so this was not usually unacceptable behavior).

          2. Freya*

            And if they literally can not, then that’s a job-required task they’re failing at that an employer should be able to point at and say ‘reason for firing’ within probation period with no consequences

          3. Nebula*

            Yeah, all my first jobs were retail jobs, and I never had to demonstrate any skills in shelving books or locating the handbag which matches the shoes or whatever, I just had an interview and you know, got taught that stuff when I actually worked there.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        You could probably find the case file for this class-action lawsuit and read what the actual circumstances were and the decision and what it was based on.

        We’ve seen a lot of questions from people who are being asked to do actual work for companies during “interviews,” or create work products that companies will then use, and that is wage theft.

        1. Nebula*

          Funnily enough (or not) there are multiple class action lawsuits against Victoria’s Secret for labour law violations, so having Googled it I’m having difficulty finding the one the letter refers to.

      3. Kyrielle*

        Or heck, present you with a few items to fold and place, and then thank you and *undo the work in front of you* so they’re clearly just evaluating, not using the work. I mean, I wouldn’t think folding/placing a few things would be onerous, but they shouldn’t be having you do it to benefit their business, just their hiring info.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Yes, like making sure that you could look at the placement of other items and then fold them in the same basic manner so they all look similar.

      4. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        I would think if they had you demonstrate skills away from the sales floor that wouldn’t count as uncompensated work; but out on the sales floor — folding, cleaning, assisting a customer, ringing up a purchase — all of that is working. It’s also just sketchy to have prospective employees demonstrate basic skills that would normally be easily covered in training.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          Yeah this part. If you don’t know how to fold a bra to their liking, they could teach you that in a day. They don’t need to test you on that in an interview. That said, if they did ask you to fold a bra in the interview room then that’s a sign they don’t know how to interview but NOT benefitting from your work.

      5. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Are you in an office folding samples that they will mess up again for the next interviewee? not work.

        Are you on an understaffed shop floor tidying inventory for customers? work.

      6. Itsa Me, Mario*

        In my experience different stores have different practices around folding, so this wouldn’t be that useful unless they were specifically looking for people who have worked at Victoria’s Secret before. And then they could just look at your resume, presumably.

    2. blacklisted_from_VS*

      I can personally vouch for Victoria’s Secret committing wage theft. They still owe me about $90 because no one taught me to properly clock in. Instead I was told my managers would do it for me. They were not, in fact, doing it for me.

      So I just walked out on a shift one morning, and when they said i’d be blacklisted from them and their affiliates I thought to myself, good.

      1. Nomic*

        I used to work part-time at Williams Sonoma. Several years ago in August (i.e. the dead season) my personal life blew up: relationship ended, 48 hours to move out, threats of violence, yadda yadda, I went in a begged for a couple weeks off so I could get my life together. They refused. I turned in my badge. “But we’ll blacklist you from the WS Family” they said.

        I was working part-time to get 40% off the cookware. I never looked back.

    3. Gerry Keay*

      Yeah OP was unwise to say it in a job interview but as a socialist adult, I wholeheartedly agree with their response and would absolutely be thinking the same thing if asked that question lol

    4. AnotherLibrarian*

      Wage theft is a real thing and something I work hard to train my student assistants about. I never want them to get taken advantage of in the word place.

    5. Pedantic guy*

      I’ve seen a 112 billion alone for shoplifting alone so I doubt that 50 billion is higher than all other thefts, burglaries, combined.

      1. LadyVet*

        I don’t believe that number for a second, unless it’s for all of time, around the world, and counting illegitimate returns.

        1. Nebula*

          It seems to come from Capital One Shopping Research. It doesn’t include fraudulent returns, which are valued separately at $84.9 billion. That 112 billion figure is the loss of potential revenue which can be attributed to shoplifting. Make of that what you will.

      2. Andy*

        I’ve seen a lot of fake numbers on the internet, especially in the service of capital. Do you have a reputable source for the 112 billion figure. If you don’t, will you retract your statement?

        1. Dandelion*

          I did a 5 second Google search and got a ton of results. It seems to be a commonly reported figure for shrinkage in the US in 2022 – 27% was due to errors, 7% unknown cause but the rest was theft, including employee theft. Not sure about reputable sources as I’m not American, though. I don’t think I can paste websites here, but it’s not hard to find if anyone wanted to have a look.

        2. Dandelion*

          Looks like there are quite a few sources from a brief Google search. I’m not American so I’m not familiar enough with the sites to say if they’re reputable but nothing jumps out as obviously dodgy.

          I’d love to hear if you disagree after having a look yourself, as it stands it seems there’s evidence backing up what they’re saying.

      3. FrivYeti*

        The short answer to that question is that whenever revenue doesn’t match missing goods, stores report it as “retail shrink” and present it as shoplifting even though it isn’t.

        Retail shrink actually covers shoplifting, employees stealing goods and selling them on the side, manufacturers sending out fewer products than they charge for and no one noticing, mark-downs of perishable goods that aren’t sold in time, and damaged goods that are tossed rather than being returned. In general, retail shrink as a whole in the United States is estimated at around $94 billion by credible organizations, but only about half of that is likely to be from actual theft, whether from shoplifting or from internal theft.

        However, it’s easy for companies to blame closing stores on theft rather than admitting that they’re doing bad business, so whenever there’s a problem in the supply chain, the lack gets blamed on theft and then businesses can close less-profitable stores without taking the heat.

        1. FrivYeti*

          Also, because editing isn’t possible! When the articles about wage theft say that they cost more than robberies, burglaries, and motor vehicle thefts, they mean from *employees*. Average workers have more stolen from them from their employers than they do from every other source of theft combined. It’s not saying that average workers have more stolen from them than corporations do.

        2. Rainy*

          I had a short-term retail management job some years back and when I was assigned the logistics & supply management position in my store, I discovered that no one had counted anything about freight shipments in years. There’s a box to “accept manifest” in the inventory management system, and everyone had just been clicking it because it was faster. We had no idea what was actually in the store. Regional sent out inventory control once in a blue moon and the inventory system would be updated from the regional office after they finished and sent in their counts, but by the time those updates hit, there’d usually been 2-3 weeks of customer purchases and 1-2x a week freight shipments, so they were already out of date when the update pushed.

          When I started actually counting not just boxes but also opening the boxes and making sure they were A) what they said they were and B) actually that amount, I discovered exactly how accurate those manifests were. (Did you guess “not at all?” It was not at all.) I was spending my entire allotment of admin time plus every week just doing inventory updates trying to figure out what was actually in the store. Don’t even get me started on the contents of The Pit.

          So yeah, since the impulse appears to be to reflexively assign all inventory discrepancies to “shrinkage” and all shrinkage to “theft”, I have to assume all those numbers are bogus.

    6. Itsa Me, Mario*

      It’s wild to me that the shoplifter question is even used in retail job interviews. Especially when interviewing minors with no prior work history. At every retail job I’ve ever had, it was stressed to us that junior sales associates with no supervisory experience are not to apprehend shoplifters under any circumstances but alert a manager or security guard.

      I suppose they’re looking for people who’d say “I would help them shove more items into their pants” or something, but I feel like there are better questions to ask to weed out people with obviously poor judgment.

      1. Siege*

        It’s very exclusionary – I took a test a thousand years ago as an assessment for a job at a retail store that my neurodivergent brain answered honestly. The problem is, they were not looking for honest answers to questions about theft, when I got immediately stuck on my self-created criteria of “what would I do if I were starving” and indicated that there was a non-zero chance I would steal. They said they wanted honesty. I had no idea that you could (or would) lie, or that you should not consider extremely marginal edge cases. As a kid living at home with my financially secure parents, the chances I’d become so hungry I would steal food from my employer were approximately .00000005%, but it was still A CHANCE so answering honestly meant acknowledging that .00000005%.

        For some strange reason I didn’t get the job, which I would not have stolen at it if I had.

      2. Freya*

        Yeah, the only realistic course of action to espouse in an interview is to “follow whatever procedures are laid out by store management”

        1. whingedrinking*

          In my province, to get the equivalent of a learner’s permit you have to take a multiple-choice test. It may be different now but back in my day, it was well known that if one of the answers included the words “safely” or “obeying the posted signage”, that was the correct one.

      3. Selena81*

        I think it’s a bad question because it punishes first-generation students (more likely to be self-taught and blurt out the thing that gave them streetcred with their classmates) over children who grew up in an environment where all the adults are educated (more likely to be taught the difference between ‘what your friends think is cool’ and ‘what an employer wants to hear’)

  4. Guacamole Bob*

    Allison, the subject lines of these roundup posts are art, as usual. “The confidence” – perfection!

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Absolutely. But also that story is just amazing. I…what? Talk about someone who missed the point entirely. See also: gumption!

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I know I sometimes assume the person I’m talking to knows as much about [obscure thing] as I do, but this guy seems to think his research is so uncomplicated and obvious that it needs no explanation… which isn’t usually considered “research”.

        1. My Dear Wormwood*

          Honestly I’d walk out if a presenter was that disrespectful (and that’s before the feet!) I’m a grad student and we’ve got plenty on our plates without some idiot who couldn’t be bothered to prepare a seminar we’re expected to attend.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I would stay because I’d be dying to see how the department head and/or search committee chair would handle a situation like that — and to participate in the stories afterward.

  5. NMitford*

    I’m #15, the self-talker with the enormous zit on her nose. For the first six months at that job, I took the loooong way through the building to use the restroom so that I didn’t have to walk down the hall where the recruiter who overheard me sat. I was so mortified. In a life full of mortifying moments (there was that blind date, for example, where I held my menu too close to the candle on the table, it went up in flames, and a waiter rushed over with a pitcher of ice water and doused, the menu, the candle, me, and my date), it was one of the most mortifying.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      I just wanted to say KUDOS to you for going through with the interview! It would have been so easy to bail, but you didn’t – and you got the job! I hope you use that as self-talk in the future… “All this stuff happened to me… but I pushed through and I succeeded!”

    2. Blarg*

      Honestly, the recruiter probably thought, “we’ve all been there.” We’ve all had those days. I try to remember to be as kind to myself as I would expect my friends and loved ones to be treated.

    3. A Girl Named Fred*

      Honestly, I think if I had been that recruiter and watched you go from that bathroom moment to doing well in the interview, I’d be even more impressed with you because not a ton of people can compose themselves so well after something like that!

    4. ferrina*

      Omg, thanks for that date story! That’s amazing!

      Also seconding other commenters- I think a lot of us have had that self-talk, we’re just lucky enough not to say it aloud or no one is in the room (or in my case, mumble it incoherently before realizing someone else is in the room). I’m super impressed at how you rallied!

    5. MigraineMonth*

      Now I want to hear more of your stories!

      I’ve never set a menu on fire, but I did go to a super-fancy fondue place where they start a pot of water boiling at your table for the fondue cheese to go in. The water superheated and exploded, sending hotter-than-boiling water splashing on my date and I. Fortunately there were no injuries, but it was alarming to have the waiter just shrug and say, “Yeah, that happens sometimes.”

      I never went back.

      1. I forgot my user name again*

        not me personally, but I did witness someone at the next table cause a small fire while roasting marshmallows for smores.

    6. Clare*

      You must be a long-lost distant cousin of mine. My family all regularly generate funny embarrassing moments like that. If you’re ever at my dining table I’ll race you to see who can get my mother into tears of laughter first!

    7. Andrea*

      I once wrote in an email to several people in my organization “I trust [outside consultant who worked with our company frequently] about as far as I could throw him.” One of the recipients replied to chastise my lack of professionalism and copied the consultant. For the rest of my time at that job (five years), I ducked into cubicles to hide anytime that guy came to our office.


    8. IneffableBastard*

      You are one of the bravest people I know. Mortified or not, you aced the interview. Even if you had not gotten the job, just the courage it took to carry on is out of bounds.

      1. Stella70*

        Yes, that’s me!
        Plus, the story where I shouted to Carl, “I hadn’t even pulled my pants down yet!”
        My life is a hot mess.

        1. Aquamarine*

          Is it?! I’m so excited – you’re an AAM celebrity!
          “Weak smile. Needn’t look too pitiful!” – I just died.

            1. SarahKay*

              I just went and re-read that story and once again laughed so much I cried. Thank you for sharing these stories with us, and for doing so in such a hilarious way.

        2. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

          The colonoscopy line had me rolling on the floor with tears squirting out of my eyes.

          You’re an amazing writer, and I say that as a published author myself!

        3. Our Lady of Shining Eels*

          Literally almost spewed water all over my keyboard. Stella, you are a TREASURE.

        4. SAS*

          Stella!! I laugh in my work bathroom stall all the time at “I haven’t even pulled my pants down yet!” popping into my head!

        5. Random Dice*

          Stella, you are a hilarious writer!!!

          I DIED at this:

          “However, I am proud to assure you that since then, I’ve been able to recite my entire name – when asked – with a success rate of 100%. Why I am not running Apple or Google by now mystifies me.”

    1. Phony Genius*

      Did anybody else have visions of A Streetcar Named Desire going through their head while reading that story?

    2. Butterfly Counter*

      Actual tears in my eyes with that one! I’ve been stressed enough that I’ve forgotten my email address, phone number, etc. But I’ve still been lucky enough to remember my last name. So far…

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I went through a very embarrassing span of time where I would get so anxious when a guy would ask for my number that instead of my cell phone number I’d give them my home number… for a house several states away where my parents lived.

      1. Corporate Lawyer*

        Ditto. I had to stop reading for a moment because I was literally doubled over in laughter.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Love how a brain can go “can’t do your actual last name, but hey, try out the One Name Celebrity gambit!”

    3. Seabunnyslugg*

      Right??? Fantastic writing. I know I’ve forgotten my email, phone number, and even job title in interviews before, but I have yet to (knock on wood) forget my last name.
      If it’s any consolation to the LW, I’m not running Apple or Google either in spite of my impressive recall of my last name.

    4. I take tea*

      I actually laughed until I had tears in my eyes. Fantastic writing. I especially liked “It was just me and my alarming warp-drive heartbeat, which was making me feel like the paramedics would get a chance to appreciate my new underwear after all.” Lovely way of saying it and a beautiful example on how to connect to earlier writing. I hope you write something else for others to read.

      1. Stella70*

        You are so very sweet!
        Alison has given us so many opportunities to share our lives and luckily for me, has “printed” two of mine.
        In case you’re interested:
        Holiday Party From Hell:
        And I am number 12 on this one, “The Spill”:

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Ok, the Simpson episode where Lisa gives up eating meat.
          Homer: What about bacon?
          – No.
          Homer: Ham?
          – No.
          Homer: Pork chops?
          – Dad! Those all come from the same animal!
          Homer: Oh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.
          You. It is you, Stella, you are the wonderful, magical Baconhamporkasaurus.

          1. Stella70*

            That is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!
            (Which is saying a lot. I am on my 4th husband.) :)

        2. Edwina*

          omg. Stella, you SLAY me. Let us never forget your Carl story includes this magnificent moment, too:
          I turned back to return to the bathroom, realizing that the Board of Directors were on their annual tour of the facilities and had just rounded the corner when I was shouting to Carl.

          Never one to freeze in the moment (I do hate to brag), I pointed confidently at my crotch and announced, “I’m wet.”

          And that was the last day Carl ever made eye contact with me.

      2. starsaphire*

        Stella, seriously, if you’re publishing somewhere, I bet a lot of us would love to know where.

    5. soshedances1126*

      I work in veterinary medicine (also as a director, but in an animal shelter/community clinic) and I am DYING.

    6. irritable vowel*

      This story reminded me of the time I was a senior in high school and I was speaking with someone on the phone from my future university about some administrative matter. They asked me to spell my name and I started with the first letter and then… proceeded to start reciting the alphabet from that point. The person on the other end of the line was just “…” and I had to just say, “I’m sorry, I’m really tired.” Fortunately they had already admitted me to the university at that point.

    7. Fuse*

      Stella with the mystery last name wrote her story so well, it’s hard to believe she was ever at a loss for words. I would love to read a book by Stella!

    8. The OG Sleepless*

      Stella, I don’t know if you ever worked/still worked in veterinary medicine, but here’s our secret: a lot of us, even (especially) the ones with a lot of letters after our names, are incredibly socially awkward people. There is a reason we would rather be dealing with animals. I promise every one of those vets has an equally mortifying story from talking to a pet owner.

    1. AFac*

      I’m the writer of #12, and I’m happy to try to answer if I can do so without doxxing myself. But please keep in mind it was over 25 years ago and I barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Oh, my questions are for the dude. But since you’re here–what did happen? I mean, my first question would have been “Why did you think this is an appropriate presentation?” followed by a “Do you even want this job?”. Among others. But curious to know how your dept handled it!

        1. AFac*

          No one said anything about how inappropriate this was, at least not in public during the presentation. Maybe they got roasted in the 1-on-1 meetings, who knows. The faculty mostly asked leading questions: “Can you explain your upper left figure to us?”, “How did you collect this data?”, etc. With hindsight, I realized they basically treated the candidate like an inexperienced graduate student–pulling them along, phrasing questions carefully to get the student to give thoughtful, detailed answers, and so forth.

          As a student, I never saw any of the application material so I’ve no idea whether the candidate looked good on paper and was unprepared and poorly mentored, or just had a lot of gall. The place where I went had a reputation for liking substance over form; had the candidate shown up in jeans and a t-shirt but gave a good talk their clothing choices wouldn’t have mattered much. They did not get hired, but I’ve no idea if they were rejected immediately or if it was just considered a warning flag for an otherwise acceptable candidate.

          Between us grad students, the conversation was mostly on their actions and not their research; I’ve completely forgotten what they worked on. The faculty never really talked to us about how inappropriate the presentation was, but going to these talks was basically mandatory for students, and we knew by comparison that this was a major misstep.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Someone offered the story years ago of a first interview after studying marketing in college. Rolled into the interview with jeans tucked into suede boots that everyone saw after/she plopped them on the desk.
        How is this a thing?!

      3. UncleFrank*

        Please tell me the discipline! My department is hiring this year and hopefully I won’t have anything like this to add next year.

    2. Alex*

      I am just going to assume that the slide was a picture of a fry pan with eggs in it with a caption that said “this is your brain on drugs.”

  6. Funny Cide*

    I have got to stop reading these at my desk. Don’t mind me, just over here snorting loudly!

  7. Ms. Climpson*

    Oy. #17 is exactly why many developers are trying to revamp/reimagine technical interviews.

    1. Patty*

      I’m not a dev, but I hire devs, and 100% this! We don’t do anything like this and I don’t really think we’re worse off for it!

      1. Orv*

        I totally flunked a tech interview at Google because I froze up. I had three people staring at me waiting for me to write code on a whiteboard. These are not normal working conditions for me. Later I concluded they were weeding out introverts.

        1. TechWorker*

          Tbh I don’t think it’s even introverts so much as ‘weeding out people who haven’t practiced coding problems on a whiteboard’. Because who tf in the real world would choose to write code without a laptop and Google? (Sure, *design* at the whiteboard, but actually write the code? Nooo)

          1. Olive*

            I’m the opposite way – I am great at whiteboard interviews and I freeze up with laptap interviews! I think it’s because deep inside, I resent sharing my work or exposing it scrutiny while I’m doing it, and I perceive typed code on a laptop as “my actual dev work”, while whiteboarding is just a presentation.

            1. TechWorker*

              Sure, my actual preference would be for interviewers to either set an exercise I can do in my own time without someone watching, (very happy to talk about it afterwards!) or to interview without a coding portion. (Which is possible! Gotta ask the right questions :))

              But then I also failed a coding take home test once because despite completing all the harder questions correctly & with a fast enough implementation, I had written ‘less than’ rather than ‘less than or equal to’ on the first, dead simple question, and that was enough to rule me out… so maybe I’m just not the biggest fan of ‘coding under time pressure’ as being very accurate to how people do in the job. (Where I’m perfectly competent…)

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I appreciated that when they wanted to schedule me for an interview, Google sent me an entire book on how to do coding interviews. Advice, practice problems with solutions, the whole 9 yards. They also let me schedule the interview for whenever I thought I would be ready for it, so I didn’t have to cram.

          Not to say it wasn’t stressful, but having walked into some of those types of interviews completely unprepared, it was nice to see the effort at leveling the playing field.

          1. Orv*

            Wow, they didn’t do that for me. I went in cold. It was an all day interview (with lunch) too. It was exhausting and humiliating. And I didn’t apply out of the blue! Their recruiter had called ME. Then after I blew it they called me again for another job, because apparently feedback doesn’t work its way back up the chain. I told them not to call me anymore.

        3. SolveThis*

          I had an interview where they made a mistake in stating a problem (in written form) so that it wasn’t solvable. I told them so, assuming it was meant to be a trick question. I was told wrong, but I could try again if I wanted. I took another look, saw the same thing, and started explaining why I was right. The interviewer was livid and showed me out the door. I got a call the next day from his boss apologizing and telling me they’d accidentally misstated the problem.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I may be in the minority, but if I could get a new job out of a #17, I’d be up for it in a heartbeat.

      1. Ms. Climpson*

        Performative coding like this, or white-boarding, is antithetical to how real world code writing works. You’re unlikely to get a good idea of how the candidate thinks through problems because too many candidates are distracted by the interviewers or go blank. How many of us could pass math tests in school if, instead of quietly working on them at our desk, we had to do the test standing in front of a classroom writing on the blackboard with five teachers watching our every move?

        1. Ms. Climpson*

          For any readers who want to argue that they would have aced such a math test — congrats, you have a different set of skills that aren’t the goal of this test.

        2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          How many of us could pass math tests in school if, instead of quietly working on them at our desk, we had to do the test standing in front of a classroom writing on the blackboard with five teachers watching our every move?

          I’d be lying if I said that feels any different to me than code review.

          1. TechWorker*

            Uh what? Code review is after you’ve written the code (and you’ve run it to check it works, and tested it). Unless you have some really bizarre live-as-you-write review process? (It’s a well known ‘fact’ amongst my colleagues that as soon as anyone is looking over your shoulder or you’re live demoing something that uses a CLI you forget how to type…)

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Either way, I’m being judged by the code I’ve composed.

              Maybe I’ve just done it in public too many times.

          2. Expelliarmus*

            Well, with code review, you’ve already done the work previously to write the code. With a math test you would have to do calculations on the spot in front of everyone.

        3. SarahKay*

          Hell, even in low-stakes day-to-day interactions that happens to me:
          Me: working quietly on a spreadsheet
          Manager or co-worker: strolls up and calmly asks a question
          Me: Blank. So blank. There are no thoughts. There will never be more thoughts.
          Me (finally):”Ummmmm…. ummm… let me look into that and get back to you.”
          Manager or co-worker: “Sure, just drop me an email with the info.” Strolls off again.
          Me: brain immediately comes back on-line, produces answer, supplementary data, and five other useful bits of info.
          Me: Seriously, brain? You couldn’t do that while this entirely non-scary person was there? Why? Why?!?

        4. MigraineMonth*

          Far and away my favorite “technical” interview was with someone who sat down, explained a challenge they’re trying to overcome in their current work, and asked what suggestions I had. I asked clarifying questions (Had they tried X? If yes, how did they get around Y issue that would follow from that?) and we had an actual discussion.

          It felt like brainstorming with a colleague, rather than a performance, and I think it gave them a much better idea of what I’d be like to work with than being able to choose which basic data structure would work for this contrived scenario (and then being able to code those structures while someone watches).

        5. JHunz*

          Performatively writing code is one thing, but being able to talk through a design process for a proposed solution to a problem with a group of other engineers is an incredibly important skill for a software engineer to have.

        6. Olive*

          If taking a math class on the blackboard with everyone watching sounds like no problem to me, is there a particular job type that I’d be good at?

  8. Michelle*

    As a teacher, I’ll say: Tim Gunn is the best teacher in pop culture history. I will die on this hill.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I have never watched that show (no interest in the subject matter) but I’ve read so many comments about the awesomeness of Tim Gunn that I’m thinking I may have to watch it.

      1. Lady Blerd*

        That is the downside to using Tim Gunn as an example because if I was an interviewer, I would absolutely understand what they mean by that but my colleagues may not.

      2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Honestly, you can watch the show and just skip to the bits with Tim in it. That’s mostly how I watched it (though I did also watch the runway because I wanted to see the clothes). Skip most of the drama, still get the best part of the show. And frankly, the earlier seasons are much better than the later ones; at a certain point it just got too “design a dress based on this car brand that is our new sponsor” (that happened more than once).

        1. Sally Rhubarb*

          “design a dress inspired by this car using only garbage” was an actual challenge I’m pretty sure

    2. MissGirl*

      Sad fact: he didn’t even get paid for the first season maybe longer. It wasn’t until an agent approached him asking if he had an agent and what his salary was that he realized he should get paid. He did a few interviews on the So Money podcast, which is a financial podcast. You’ll love him even more after listening.

      1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Oh my god, they didn’t pay him to start with? WTF. He makes that show. He’s the main reason I liked it. I stopped watching when he stopped being on it.

      2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        wow. Is that because they were filming at Parsons and he was employed at Parsons during that time as the Fashion Design Department Chair? Was it a conflict of interest or considered a collaboration with Parsons — so he was paid by Parsons for his work, rather than the show?

    3. cleo*

      Agreed! I taught art and design to undergraduates and watching Tim Gunn was incredibly helpful to me. His “I care about you and your success, so I’m going to share this difficult feedback with you” approach is so, so good.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        And even when he didn’t get the persons vision or agree with their design he still acknowledged that ultimately it was his opinion and he could be wrong.

    4. Dz*

      I worked in fundraising at a Humane Society where employees could bring pets to work. My boss and I were interviewing someone in her office. The interview wasn’t going so hot, and then my boss’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who had been snoozing in his bed, stood up and puked on the floor. My boss cleaned up the puke and we resumed the interview. At the end, she told me “Well that person’s not getting the job but at least they’ll have a job interview story to tell for the rest of their life.”

  9. Luthage*

    I was just out of college interviewing for Software Engineering jobs. It was the final interview and they had flown me out to LA for the day long in person interview. At about 4am, I woke up in the hotel room with food poisoning. I didn’t know what to do. Being LA, there was nothing within walking distance to get supplies. I didn’t have a car. I was up the rest of the night throwing up. After sunrise I stumbled to the nearest store for Pepto, Gatorade and crackers.

    The interview 8 hours long. Most of it standing at a whiteboard writing code in front of a group of interviewers. I could barely stand and I was too worried about fainting and/or throwing up that I couldn’t remember how code worked. Did not get the job.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      Oh, that sucks!

      I was once flown out to NEW YORK CITY for an interview (which was very exciting at the time). I didn’t know New York City at all, and apparently neither did the people on the west coast who booked my travel, because they put me up in a hotel in Manhattan for a morning interview halfway down Long Island.

      I looked up the cab fare, and it came out to “trips of this distance must be negotiated with the cab driver”. I was concerned that wouldn’t be reimbursed by their travel policy.

      No one on the west coast was at work yet, so I ended up cobbling together a metro ride transferring to a commuter train transferring to a cab and was only 20 minutes late for the interview. I think they should have hired me just for making it there!

      1. Satan's Panties*

        Okay, that reminds me of something. I think this counts as work-related, because it’s about an actress, and part of an actor’s job is publicity. So. Those of you who are old enough to remember when Molly Ringwald was the queen of teen movies might also remember an interview she was supposed to do for People magazine, that ended up going on without her.

        People was doing a retrospective issue about Hollywood and the film industry, and one of the features was to be a joint interview with Ringwald, the current leading ingenue, and Lillian Gish, the oldest living ingenue. Thing is, Gish was elderly and frail, and apparently there was no question of her leaving her apartment to go to some neutral meeting place, like a restaurant. So it had to be at her place, which sounds okay, except that no one seemed to take into account that MR was from Los Angeles, used to driving herself everywhere, and barely knew East from West, literally. She was supposed to get herself to this address in the East Seventies or wherever; if she had directions, they were probably drawn up by someone who had been navigating NYC for years.

        And it gets better! Shortly before she was going to leave wherever she was staying, she got her hand caught in one of those heavy security doors. Off to urgent care, and then she had to try to get to LG’s place from the hospital instead of her original starting point. And then the cab driver’s expertise only got them to the general neighborhood, and he kept going around all these one-way streets until MR was weeping and telling him to forget it, just take to a florist’s so she could get flowers delivered.

        Unfortunately, all this wasn’t known until a few years later, when Premiere magazine asked her about it. At the time, what People chose to share was that LG was interviewed on her own. After waiting with a plate of cookies…and waiting…and finally saying “I guess she doesn’t care because I’m old.”

        Aaugh! That was especially mortifying for MR, because in truth, she *was* interested in the early days of H’wood, and was over the *moon* to get a chance to meet someone who’d been working during the silent era. I’unno; she must not have had a publicist, or not one worth their salt. She certainly didn’t have a driver or a personal assistant! And what I wanna know is, if People wanted this interview to happen so freakin’ bad, why didn’t they send a car and a driver for MR? Again, they *knew* she was from L.A. And they certainly didn’t have to print that quote from LG, nor go to press without getting MR’s side of it.

        (No, I’m not a die-hard MR fangirl. Just that this debacle has always stuck in my memory as being an actor’s worst nightmare. Or one of the worst.)

    2. Hats Are Great*

      I knew a guy who was in an accident on the Bay Bridge on the way to the last day of his bar exam. He was bleeding from the head, but he managed to convince the cops to let him call a cab and go take the exam, because there are no makeup days for the bar exam and you have to wait 6 months before they offer it again.

      Immediately after the exam, he went to the ER and got his head stapled back together.

      He did pass.

  10. Seabunnyslugg*

    I completely relate to #16 (the mute) other than it happened to me during an in-person interview. I had been hit with rapid fire questioning about prioritizing tasks and the interviewer kept saying “nope, try again” to each of my answers until finally I just sat there, mouth opening and closing like a fish while he’s staring me down. I finally just stuttered “I don’t know” after an infinite amount of silence, and should have left right there. I definitely didn’t get the job.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I feel like you dodged a bullet with that one. Can you imagine working for someone like that?

    2. Aquamarine*

      WTF! What a jerk. He’s the one that should feel mortified, but I’m sure he’s incapable.

    3. No Yelling on the Bus*

      Who interviews like that!?! I always tell my interviewees that we BOTH want them to shine in the interview. But then, I am also very confident in my ability to both be a decent human being while also critically assessing a person’s job skills.

    4. ferrina*

      Wait, what?! Prioritization depends heavily on context.
      I’ve asked prioritization tasks, and it’s to see how the person thinks, not a quiz. There’s no way they could know how to prioritize without understanding what the organization’s and team’s priorities are!

  11. Falling Diphthong*

    #14: I need an update!

    Did enforcing your will work? Either on the hiring committee, or on the 17 year olds?

    1. Jay_Ess*

      Interestingly, it was a job I ended up managing up quite a bit at, so I guess enforcing my will did work? I gave up on the 17 year olds. I felt too old.

  12. Falling Diphthong*

    It is fun to divide these into “insufficient gumption” and “excess of gumption.” The latter is the key to becoming legendary.

  13. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    The honesty one — Yeah I would have hired you too. Its a legit concern. And clearly you wound up not hating it.

    Impose my Will – sometimes in a group project you have to. Also, that’s kinda what managers do. They can be polite, they can explain their reasons, but in the end what they says goes (unless illegal or dangerous).

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I actually thought the honest one was sort of charming. It is the sort of answer I would have totally respected as an interviewer.

    2. Hats Are Great*

      Totally! If someone gave me Honesty’s answer, I would be super-impressed.

      Who HASN’T had that fear coming out of school into their first real job? I mean, who hasn’t had that fear when making any big irreversible transition?

    3. whingedrinking*

      Someone told me once they admired my “leadership”, which strikes me as hilarious because I hate being in charge. But I hate watching people flail around aimlessly even more, so if no one else will do it, I will.

  14. Memory File Cannot Be Accessed*

    I had this happen once with a guy I really liked in high school. We had been friends for months but we both liked each other but were both too shy to do anything. We hung out every single day and had multiple classes together where we spent most of the time just talking. We both assumed the other one wasn’t interested kind of thing.
    Well a big group of people from our high school went to a midnight movie (for whatever reason that was IN at the time) and I brought a good friend of mine who went to another school.
    I brought my friend Tina* over to my friends and crush and went down the line introducing her to everyone and when I got to him my brain erased his name from my memory files and I had a big blank. At first people thought it was a joke and there was nervous laughter (me too) and I just couldn’t…remember his name…after a few awkward moments he looked hurt and then introduced himself. It was such a weird glitch in the matrix moment. I was a high school girl with a crush so I probably said his name 20 times a day but for whatever reason in that moment it disappeared.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I was introducing my one of my dad’s nurses to my friend’s family. She kindly drove him to a party.
      Me: This is Mary.
      Friend: Hi. Mary.
      Not Mary: It’s Sue.
      Me: Mary.
      Not Mary: Do you think I’m Mary? I’m Sue.
      Me: Mar…eeee?
      No idea what happened. I just could. not. process.
      Yes, I saw both of them everyday, but still.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        What is it with brains and their spontaneous “I’m gonna start a trash fire instead of doing my job” moments?

      2. TripletsNotTriplets*

        At one of my early jobs we had a set of sales triplets. they were not identical when standing next to each other but looked and sounded similar enough to each other that no one was sure which one they’d talked to if they ran into one without the others. The amount of energy people put into never using names and also trying to follow up when asked to do something was insane.

      3. whingedrinking*

        I once guested on my partner and his friend’s podcast. My partner didn’t participate in the recording for that one, so the friend had to do the usual housekeeping stuff. The introduction went something like this:
        Him: Hello, and welcome! We are Whinge and Bob.
        Me: You’re not Bob. You’re Joe.
        Him: Right, yes, sorry. We are…not Bob. And, um…not Joe.

        I mean, technically he was right in that one of us was not Bob and the other was not Joe, so…

    2. Aldabra*

      This has happened to me enough that I now have a mild phobia about it, so typically I try to get engineer it so people introduce themselves, or use their title instead of their name, that sort of thing. Like, it could be a colleague who I’ve known for five years and I’ll be about to say their name in a meeting and be afraid that somehow I’ve gotten their name wrong in my head, and I can’t say it aloud in case the wrong name comes out. Not the ones I work with every day, at least; but I’ve definitely publicly blanked on names of people I for sure know. Not unrelated, I’m terrible at names, they go in one ear and out the other.

      1. allathian*

        I’m terrible at names too, but I just blank out. I don’t remember ever using the wrong name for anyone, though.

    3. Irish Teacher.*

      I once visited a friend I made online in Cambridge (the university; they were a student there). Anyway, chatting to her friends, one of them asked something like how we became friends and I suddenly realised I didn’t know whether the nickname I knew her by was one she used in real life or if it were just an internet handle and I momentarily blanked on her real name, which it is derived from, but isn’t a common short for (think her full name was Susan and I knew her as Ann). She was trying not to laugh

      1. Avery*

        Oh hey, I had a very similar incident with my online friends… multiple, actually, now that I think about it.
        The one I was originally going to reference was where I forgot what my online friend’s real name was, while he was visiting, and had to avoid referencing him by name because the online handle I knew him by was not something that could pass as a regular name. (It’s a species of Pokemon. To give you some idea of my predicament.)
        But then my brain reminded me of an earlier instance where I was meeting an online acquaintance in person to get some stuff from their website, and I remembered that they were trans, but not their actual gender, so I kept awkwardly flip-flopping between pronouns. In hindsight, I should’ve just stuck with “they”, but my brain did not come up with that in the moment.
        (Ironic bit for that second one: I myself am also trans! But I was not aware of it at the time.)

  15. Jen (they or she pronouns please)*

    Nr 9 (Looking at the candle person) could be my 8th grade french teacher… He spent at least the first 5 minutes each class on similar stuff. (Not in the US so it’s unlikely. But would 100% fit.) Really the weirdest teacher I ever had.

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      It’s the police radio code for “arrest for possession,” generally of pot. It’s been co-opted by the general public to mean “pot friendly.”

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I haven’t heard that origin story.
        In the 1990s, I heard it was a group of kids who smoked after school.
        They met at 4:20. And it took off as they dispersed.
        Anyone else hear this?

        1. Silver Robin*

          I have heard both, and I think the actual origins are lost in the mysterious….fog of pop culture

        2. Gerry Keay*

          Yeah the police code one is common but not true as far as I’ve been able to gather. I live in the Bay and was told it was kids in SF going to a hill in Golden Gate Park to smoke at 4:20, and “hippy hill” is now a bit of a stoner landmark in the area. Hard to say if it’s local myth/marketing or actual history. Stoners aren’t known for their ironclad memories :)

        3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          Snopes validates this story as (close to the) true origin

          [The 420] origins appear to lie in the escapades of a group of friends from San Rafael high school, northern California, in 1971. That autumn, the five teenagers came into possession of a hand-drawn map supposedly locating a marijuana crop at Point Reyes, north-west of San Francisco.

          The friends — who called themselves the Waldos because they used to hang out by a wall — met after school, at 4:20 pm, and drove off on their treasure hunt. They never found the plot. “We were smoking a lot of weed at the time,” says Dave Reddix or Waldo Dave, now a filmmaker. “Half the fun was just going looking for it.” The group began using the term 420. So did friends and acquaintances, who included — at a couple of steps removed — members of the Grateful Dead rock band. The term spread among the band’s fans, known as Deadheads.

          Then in 1990 Steve Bloom, an editor at High Times, saw 420 explained on a Grateful Dead concert flyer. Staff on the magazine, long the leading publication on marijuana, started using it.

      1. No Yelling on the Bus*

        Also, if you have similar questions in the future, Urban Dictionary is a helpful resource to decoding slang.

        1. Awkwardness*

          I’ll keep that in mind! I google most of the times if I do not know a term and I learned interesting little snippets of American culture so far.
          I think the problem was that I thought it had something to do with alcohol and used the wrong search terms.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Alcohol may not have been the search term problem, but it was definitely that interviewee’s!

            1. PhyllisB*

              I shared this story with my daughter who does marketing for a recovery center. Her comment:”not so in recovery it would appear.” The best thing I can say about this is at least he was honest.

        2. It's Marie - Not Maria*

          Be careful using Urban Dictionary on work servers or computers. A lot of their content is NSFW.

  16. Aquamarine*

    #17 – thank you for posting. This was so relatable for me, and also hilarious, knowing that you’ve survived and moved on… “gave up for a few minutes and put my head in my hands trying to calm down, forgetting that I was still live on Zoom and the interviewers could see me.”

  17. fish*

    #14, Imposing My Will, I love this.

    My job is basically herding cats with all the positive techniques you mention, and yes, that is my backup.

    1. Ama*

      Yeah I think I would chuckle and then ask a follow up question about what imposing your will looked like. But my work deals with a LOT of volunteer committees composed of people who outrank me, but who I need to sign off on any number of plans to get anything done.

    2. duinath*

      yeah, i was sitting here like, that’s not the worst answer though. i mean, i don’t think it would work for half as many people as think they could make it work, but if you can, and all the positive communication and cooperation just is not working, i do think it could be worth a try.

  18. bumblebee mask*

    I have reached a point in my career where I’m mostly content with my job. I can retire with a pension in 9 years. But I have a new boss I’m not happy with so I’m cautiously looking at places that interest me. There’s a certain benefit to looking when you’re not desperate for a job and it has given me the freedom to say fuck it, I’m going to answer the questions how I want and if they like me they like me and if they don’t they don’t. Case in point. Recently I was asked what the challenges in benefits were for the next 5 years. (I work in HR in benefits) I said:

    Most people are going to tell you cost, which is true, however the real challenge is getting us to nationalized healthcare. We should be banding together, all the big companies and making it happen. It would be cheaper for all of us across the board if we were to send the money we currently spend on employee health care to the government to manage the whole mess. Costs are not going to go down. We’ve messed with the copays and deductibles and there’s no benefit there anymore. The real next step is figuring out how to make nationalized healthcare happen. I’ve actively been voting myself out of a job for years.

    I had a second interview and there’s a possibility of a 3rd. :D

    1. wendelenn*

      KUDOS to you for giving a realistic and honest appraisal! I hope you get hired. I don’t work in HR but everything you said is true and we need more HR folks like you.

    2. Texan In Exile*

      I wish you success! It costs what it costs and people are not necessarily deterred by co-pays.

  19. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    I love #3. Honestly and sincerely, that is such a bang-on answer to that question, because I know people who have been in that boat (where they did end up absolutely hating something that they had originally loved) and it really sucks.

    1. RecoveringSWO*

      I agree. I also think the interviewer has a good chance of relating to that answer. Furthermore, LW#3 is also confessing that she majored in chemistry because she has a passion for the subject (as opposed to another reason like parental pressure).

      I can see how a new professional would be embarrassed by their answer, but I think it really hits the sweet spot of vulnerability to form a connection with the interviewer. And I say that as someone who generally gets the “ick” from faddish recommendations to increase vulnerability in the workplace.

      1. Silver Robin*

        Same! I was trying to put my finger on why this vulnerability is okay while other forms would be too much, and I think it has to do with how all of the bits discussed still connect with the job and do, in fact, present OP as somebody who wants to do well and cares about the field.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Reading it was like watching the wedding cake fall. I want to help. I can’t help. I can’t catch it. I can’t hold the table. It’s unstoppable.

      1. Ms. Climpson*

        Right? I can empathize with going blank, but holy smokes, I would have said something about interview jitters hitting me out of nowhere and my mind going completely blank. Better than claiming not to have a last name. But then I’ve been in the work force long enough, and on both sides of interviews, to believe that how interviewers handle jitters is part of the interview process, of applicants assessing employers and employers demonstrating that they are humane place to work.

    2. WellRed*

      I dunno why the receptionist kept pushing it? Surely they couldn’t have had that many Stellas in to interview that day.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        I will admit that hit me a little strange as well!

        I remember explicitly receptionists calling back for my interviewers and stating “AllHetUp is here for her interview.” They did not need to specify my last name of About It. And I would say that my real name is far more common then Stella.

      2. Dr Sarah*

        Maybe they had a long list of people expected for different appointments and they were arranged alphabetically by surname? Or maybe it was just a rule for the receptionists that they had to get both names.

  20. Sabina*

    These are so good! My biggest cringe: Walked into a interview right out of college and the main interviewer looked like a young Paul Newman, only hotter (imagine!). He took my hand for a handshake and I became transfixed, looking into his eyes, still holding his hand for …I don’t know how long, WAY longer than a handshake should last. What is the part of your brain that when it realizes you are doing something wrong and awkward decides it would be MORE awkward to just stop doing it? Yeah, that part of my brain kicked in and I stood clutching his hand for dear life while my face got redder and redder. He finally saved me by somewhat forcefully reclaiming his hand. I don’t remember the rest of the interview, but I got the job. Never saw him again thankfully but also sadly.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        His job may have just been interviewing so the LW just wasn’t in his sphere after that.

        1. Sabina*

          Yeah, I think he was an HR person and HR worked in a different building. Also, I was only at the job for about a year before getting a job with a different employer.

    1. The OG Sleepless*

      Ha. I had a friend who referred a landscape guy to me once, and neglected to tell me that the landscaper was HAWT. I opened the door and just…stared. He introduced himself and I just stared for a second more before responding. Awkward.

  21. Need Motivation and Mulch*

    Oh the STAR questions! I was completely unprepared for those but somehow managed to get my current job with that interview style.

      1. EllenD*

        I’m assuming STAR is answering by setting out the Situation, Task, your Actions, and the Result (outcome). My former organisation asked for application forms to include examples of skills or attributes to be presented in this way, as well as answering questions during interviews. The bulk should be given to Actions, with a sentence or two on the rest. Some people would be marked down, because they forgot Result, which could include learning how to do it better next time.

  22. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

    Okay, 13 made me laugh out loud so loud I thought my neighbors might check on me. But 16 made me snort-laugh. ROTFL – Nope! Still here!

    1. Another Lisa*

      Those are the same two that cracked me up and my name is also Lisa. Clearly we are simpatico!

  23. MoodySloth*

    I was interviewing at a state park for a fiscal position that I really wanted. A few days before, I got a really bad cold, and was on some daytime cold medicine the day of the interview, which combined with my nerves for a not great combo. I don’t actually remember much of the interview itself. I do however distinctly remember that at the end when I went to leave the room, I opened the closet door instead and stared at it for way too long before laughing nervously and saying “Pretty sure that’s not the way I came in”. Then when I was in the parking lot trying to leave, the way I came in had a barrier, and the way to leave needed a code if you didn’t have the parking pass to put in, so I had to go back in so they could press the button to let me leave. I did not get the position.

    1. No Yelling on the Bus*

      Oh my goodness! This is why there’s warnings not to drive or operate heavy machinery on cold and allergy medicine!

  24. Risha*

    OMG for #5, I can relate so much to this! I feel so much better knowing it’s not just me that forgets things like my name LOL!! The other day, I was on the phone with my kid’s doctor and forgot his birthdate. Then when I did say it, it was the wrong day. They must’ve thought I’m the worst mom in the entire world at that moment. Other times, I’ve spelled my name wrong at work.
    Stress will do that to you. Just know you’re not alone, person who wrote #5.

    1. Relatable!*

      Two of my girls have birthdates exactly two years, one week apart. I always, always pause whenever asked for their birthdate because I have to remember which date goes with which year.

    2. Quill*

      I gave my wrong address in front of a judge once.

      (In my defense the first few numbers matched…)

      Judge: That’s not what we have on record.

      Me: Oh! Sorry! I automatically gave a previous address! I was there a lot longer…

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I’ve had the same phone number for almost 20 years and I STILL have to stop and make sure I’m not reciting the former one.

        1. (Health, Safety) Environmental Compliance*

          I’ve managed to give someone my parents’ old landline number that no longer exists.

          I’ve been out of the house and on my own for over a decade. They haven’t even had that phone number in like 4 years.

          Brains are weird, weird creatures.

    3. Critical Rolls*

      The other day I was on the phone and had to give a bunch of number-based information, and they finally asked for my zip code. 404 not found.

  25. HonorBox*

    OP3 – The honesty was refreshing. I love it. Reading that made my day.

    I got thinking about an interview that I participated for part of. The candidate’s resume included their email address which was “(famousathlete)” which was cringe-worthy. Following a not so great interview, in which the candidate was obviously nervous and underprepared, we were underwhelmed. My boss later told me “the rest of the story.” He spent a little time with the candidate, giving a tour. He asked the candidate if they had any questions, and I kid you not, the only two questions they had were the following:
    1. When do we get paid?
    2. Do you have a tattoo policy?
    To my boss’s credit, he rolled with it. The candidate did not get the job, however.

    1. No Yelling on the Bus*

      I thought #3 was refreshing too. I work with a lot of recent grads and I would respond like that interviewer, I would chuckle and appreciate the honesty. Not at all a gaffe in my eyes.

  26. Pam Adams*


    I tell people at my higher ed job that I want to be buried in the rose garden. I believe that one or more horses are already buried thete, so I will have company.

  27. TomServo*

    #3 that was one of the best answers to an interview question I’ve ever read.

    You became so much more likable to me just as a person reading that.

  28. Nanc*

    Office Depot does indeed sell [Amscan Halloween Cemetery Pop-Up] coffin[s] but they’re currently out of stock. (Am I the only one who just had to look?).

  29. KateJ*

    Part of the issue in some of these stories is how absolutely, actively incompetent some organizations/people are at hiring–being an applicant is hard enough without being treated badly by terrible interviewers. My worst interview process BY FAR was for an academic job at a tiny little university who seemed to think they were on par with Harvard. After a 6-month interview process that involved a lengthy application, essays, pre-work, multiple phone interviews/calls, and reference checks, I was brought in for a 3-day interview process. It involved numerous awkward meals with unfriendly people (one of whom I later found out was also in the running for the job). I had to meet about half the people in the organization (and was expected to remember names) and do a complex presentation in front of what seemed like the other half. I had a beautiful and well-researched presentation (one of the nicer faculty complimented me on it) but during the post-presentation questions, it became clear that most of the attendees didn’t understand it and one of them was only intent on asking “gotcha” questions that had nothing to do with the content. The whole thing culminated in a final super-early-morning interview, during which they repeated the same questions I had already answered in the multiple previous interviews. (Oh, and during the three-day process, I had an LGBTQ staff member warn me about the “cultural climate” of the organization.) By the end of the process, I was exhausted and disenchanted, but I was still incredibly disappointed when (months later) they called me up to inform me that, after all that, they were hiring no one at all… But it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened: it encouraged me to do a career pivot and enter a different aspect of the field, which led me to my true dream job–so silver lining, but I’m still salty about it!

  30. CRM*

    #17 I can relate to this! I once did an interview that involved live coding and it was the absolute worst. Usually these kind of interviews involve solving some problems and answering questions about syntax on a testing platform, so I was entirely unprepared for the fact that I would be coding in real time over Zoom while screen-sharing my Python IDE. My brain completely shut down. I couldn’t complete a single task. Even the easiest tasks completely tripped me up because I was so anxious about the fact that I was being watched. It probably looked like I had never coded before in my life, after spending the previous four interviews talking up my Master’s Degree and years of experience. I’ve never been so embarrassed.

    I didn’t get that job, but the company went bankrupt a year later anyways, so it was probably for the best.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      That sounds extremely painful. It’s like being asked to write a document, and have them watch the Google doc as you write it – you might be a very competent writer, but we’re not used to people watching us like that.

  31. DZ*

    Years ago I worked in fundraising at a Humane Society. Employees were allowed to bring pets to work. My boss and I were interviewing someone in her office while her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel snoozed in his bed. The interview wasn’t going so hot. Then the dog stood up and puked on the floor. My boss cleaned up the puke and we continued the interview. After the interviewee left, my boss said “Well, they’re not getting the job, but at least they’ll have an interview story to tell for the rest of their life.”

  32. Sleeping Sun*

    Missed the original post, but here is mine:

    I had an interview scheduled for Tuesday afternoon and my sister had a migraine crisis on Monday night that sent her to the hospital, I was staying with her and still don’t know why but didn’t cancel the interview the next day. I obviously bombed it, can’t even remember what I said just that I was distracted and couldn’t think properly about my answers, to the point that the interviewer told me that it was evident my head wasn’t there and finished the conversation.

    Would love to tell you that it was because I was young and didn’t have much experience, but I’ve been working this kind of positions for a decade and it happened last year.

  33. stokes*

    #5 reminds me of the time I was working as a nanny and we arrived late and a little bit harried to a drop-in baby music class. The class was just finishing up the hello song, where the grown-up would call out the name of the baby and then everyone would sing the baby’s name in that round of the song. I was slipping in the back, with my charge in-arms, when the leader looked right at us saying “And who is this?!” And then, with twenty adults and their babies staring at directly at me, my mind completely blanked on the baby’s name. I knew her. I loved her. I’d been caring for her since she was a newborn. I was very much authorized to have her. And, just like #5, my brain could not form her name, let alone any name. After what felt like hours (but was probably just several excruciating seconds), something clicked back on and I was able to sputter out her name. My cheeks were flaming and I got serious side-eye from some of the parents for the rest of the class. I would have walked out right then and there, but I was afraid that would look even more sus. Ah, the good old days.

  34. nora*

    I work for a state government. The current administration is…quite a shift from the last several. After the last election but before the inauguration I interviewed for a position serving a population the administration was not going to be friendly toward. At the end of the interview I asked how the change in administration would affect funding and policies in that program (a fair question, I thought). The response was F R O S T Y. I knew in that instant that (a) I wasn’t getting another interview and (b) I didn’t want one anyway. Win-win. And for the record, I was right about everything.

  35. Sparky McDragon*

    “However, at the time, I was taking extra courses to upgrade my degree and was the only student over 30 doing a group project with a bunch of 17-19 year olds, and really grinding my teeth through that particular process.”

    Oh my god I just finished an onlie masters program and the classes that were mixed grad and undergrad mixes were just. so. painful. Either you were with a group of 35 year old and it went fine or it was 21 year olds traight out of college with no functional working in a group skills and I occasionally felt like demanding a refund for having to teach their undergraduate cohert the basics of working in a group.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I was in a grad seminar where the instructor and I were in our late 30s and the other three students were straight out of traditional undergrad, so like 22. We had to stop a video once to explain to the three of them what a boom box was.

  36. Olive*

    I was in an interview where a candidate was supposed to present on a topic of their choice, with the strong implication that the topic was supposed to relate to our business’ engineering field. Even if the candidate was just out of college or about to graduate, their degree would be in this engineering field.

    I wonder if the young gentleman who spoke for 25 minutes about intermittent fasting is going to do a full body cringe someday. (But ultimately I was less upset about his poor judgement than that my own coworkers didn’t seem to acknowledge that a lecture about diet was likely to leave some people feeling terrible. He didn’t get the job, but I would have liked management or HR to acknowledge how inappropriate it was.)

  37. Dr Sarah*

    Both my Terrible Interview Gaffe stories are from my interviews for medical school (which is an undergrad degree in the UK, so, in my defence, I would have been 17 – 18 at the time):

    1. Very prestigious university. I can only assume the interviewer had had a really, really bad day, because I walked in and he glared at me as though we had a personal feud going. He then growled out “You’re in charge of the NHS, have all the money you need; tell me what you’d do to reform it.” This is in fact a classic question for medical school interviews, and I realised I had done no preparation for it whatsoever. Stood there stammering and trying to think of absolutely anything. I had at the time been reading something about abortion delays on the NHS, so the one thing I could think of to say was “I’d make sure that any woman who wanted an abortion could get one straight away”. Then I stammered a bit more and said “I’d do stuff that wasn’t about abortion as well, of course, um, errr…” and totally failed to think of a thing. The rest of the interview is a blank in my mind, which is probably a mercy.

    2. This one, on the other hand, seemed to be going very well until the very end where they asked me whether I had any questions for them and, for some reason I cannot adequately explain to this day, the one question I asked was “I heard that at some medical schools the students have to share the body they’re dissecting. Would we get our own bodies to dissect?”

    You will be unsurprised to hear that I did not get a place at either university, but I did eventually get a place at a medical school I really enjoyed and ended up growing up into a reasonably sane and competent doctor, so, there you go, happy ending.

  38. WillowSunstar*

    When I was much, much younger, and still temping, I interviewed for a temp job wearing a blouse and beige slacks. Unbeknownst to me, I apparently had just gotten that time of the month, and did not know until I had left the interview. Learned the hard way to never, ever wear light-colored slacks to a job interview.

  39. ZugTheMegasaurus*

    I once got scolded for an “enforce my will” type comment during a presentation. I do project management type work and post-quarter-close, I would regularly be asked to give a 30-60 minute presentation to high-level management to recommend process changes. One quarter, I had completed an extremely difficult project with a very difficult customer in less than half the time anticipated. One consistent problem that had been happening for months was a structure where for these very complex projects, they would add on another person who basically just ran documents through an official tool; these were documents that I was responsible for negotiating and drafting, but then I was supposed to send it to an overloaded entry-level person whose sole job was to make the “official” copy. I figured out pretty quickly that I could save a hell of a lot of time just by doing it myself and cutting that person out of the process, which I regularly did.

    So I’m giving this presentation to the higher ups; this is a massive company so we’re talking 5 levels of management above me all on this call. I go through my PowerPoint, everyone is duly impressed, and then someone asks me how helpful this redundant structure was. I laughed and said, “Well, I did have to essentially steal it from them and cut them out of the process, but that reduced cycle time by [whatever it was].”

    Apparently, this person had been very involved in developing the redundant staffing structure and was EXTREMELY offended by my comment. My poor manager had flown out to HQ for these presentations and I guess got an earful from them after the meeting. He called me and said, “I’m not mad, I know that’s just how you talk and, frankly, they needed to hear it, but just try to stay away from that kind of phrasing in the future.”

  40. Ink*

    I can imagine vaguely the kind of thing they wanted from “draw the internet” but I absolutely cannot imagine the answer being that big. Even if you wrote everything with letters as tall as your hand, that’s SO much space!

    But MAN do I wish I had the space to have an entire wall that’s just whiteboard.

  41. Domanda*

    I worked for a science museum for years. When interviewing people for museum educator positions it was standard practice to ask them in advance to prepare a science demo of some kind to perform during the interview. I wasn’t on the committee for this one, but I heard about it from a colleague who was hiring for a position in the chemistry lab. The candidate brought in a demo that involved using isopropyl alcohol to power a (small) rocket car. My colleague thought twice, and recommended that they do the demonstration outside just in case. Which was good because the candidate spilled some alcohol on her arm and lit herself on fire. She wasn’t seriously injured, but any interview that ends with an accident report is not a good sign. She did not get hired.

  42. Moonstone*

    Can I please be friends with The Last Name writer?? That was absolutely hilarious and so well written I felt like it was from a book!

  43. Clairelythebest*

    Re: The coffins, Once when an HR rep was going over the details in my offer letter, she told me she loved the company so much she hoped to die on the job. It did not speak well for the company fostering healthy work/life balance. Or boundaries. I did not take the job.

  44. GoryDetails*

    All the brain-freeze posts make me feel a bit happier about my own. I was interviewing for a new software engineering job after my last company closed its local branch and most of us were laid off. Now, I began my career when anything “computer” was so rare and in demand that I barely had to interview at all, so I wasn’t used to having to demonstrate any skills – in the past I’d just toss my resume at a desired job and start work a few weeks later. But times had changed, and I was asked to explain a Very Basic Concept from a short example of C++ code – not quite “state your name” but almost as elementary, code-wise. I knew the answer; had known it for the decades in which I’d been writing code in that language. To my astonishment, I could. not. think. of. it. I froze, eventually stammered something about “I know it, it’s just not coming to me,” can’t remember the rest of the interview at all, and (surprise) did not get the job. Sigh.

    But I do feel better knowing that this hits other people too, so thanks for that!

  45. NotBatman*

    #12 is giving me flashbacks to some of the weirdly bad job talks I’ve attended. Like the candidate who answered every single question with “that’s a good question, what do you think?” The dean asked her if she’d measured X variable; “that’s a good question, what do you think?” A prof asked her what she planned to do next in this area; “that’s a good question, what do you think?” I asked her if she could go back one slide; “that’s a good question, what do you think?”

    That, and the candidate who couldn’t describe their own dissertation when asked.

  46. EchoGirl*

    I have one that’s a bit more complicated, but still mortifying. While in college, I applied for a job with a campus LGBT center. At the time, I was just starting to realize I might not be totally straight, but the only person I’d spoken to about it had been a little dismissive, and meanwhile I wasn’t sure what to classify myself as…I thought bisexual seemed like the closest fit, but it didn’t quite seem right either. (I now realize that I’m more accurately a biromantic ace, but I didn’t really have a good sense of what asexuality was at the time or how it interacts with the straight-gay spectrum.) In any case, I get to the interview, and the interviewer asks me why I think I’d be a good fit. At that moment, something in my brain (probably my then-undiagnosed anxiety disorder) trips and I start wondering if I really want to tell this person this thing that I’ve told basically no one and that I’m not even entirely sure of myself, and then I also had this fear that I was inadvertently becoming one of those straight girls who claimed to be bi just to make myself more interesting. The result was that I couldn’t bring myself to say it, so I kind of fumbled around and ended up with an answer that was basically just a long-winded iteration of “I have gay friends”.

    Never heard back from them and I don’t blame them.

  47. Justadumbkid*

    I have a kind of embarrassing story of where I was the interviewer. Around 21, I landed a job managing a cart in the middle of mall (2007ish). I was working 40 hours and going to school nearly full time and had alot on my plate. I was also a cocky, and dumb 21 year old. I was hiring for retail associate position. I had a guy show up in a nice button up top, dress shoes and nice pair of jeans. I had it in my head that anyone that showed up in jeans would be automatically turned away and not interviewed. Looking back it was just a cart in the mall, not a professional office job. I should have just interviewed him.

  48. Mothman*

    I can’t stand the two theft questions. The *only* acceptable answer is “alert management and call the authorities.” I really hope they weren’t looking for “try to stop them.”

    Now, if the shoplifter is 14 and just slipped a lipstick into a pocket, sure, call them out. But if they’re really going for a lot? That’s not your problem. The coworker? DEFINITELY not your problem. Hello, Lululemon murder!

    1. MichelinMenArentSubtle*

      Yeah when I worked retail I received NO training or instruction about what to do about shoplifters. My manager (a tall, skinny 30-something man) alternately chased people down (the woman trying to steal several boxes of shoes under her coat dropped them and ran) or probably called the cops? He was actually good at low-key confrontations when people would, say, try to steal an entire puffy Canada Goose parka by putting it on and then putting their existing coat over top.

      It’s wild what some retail owners expect though; I bet our big boss would have 100% preferred we risk ourselves stopping thieves than let them get away with it.

  49. TechWriter*

    Aw. Two of these just really make me wish someone would take all young people aside and tell them that, when they’re asking questions in a job interview, they mean it in a work context. They do not want to know that you cry, take a bath, or go dancing to deal with stress. They do not want to know your likes and dislikes when they ask you to tell them about yourself.

    Pretty sure I also made those mistakes in my first job interview. Luckily it was for an internship, and they didn’t have super high expectations. Tip that should be obvious but isn’t when you’re 20-something: maybe don’t say “well my dad thought I might like it” when they ask you why you were interested in X career.

  50. Spacey O*

    I almost left an interview in an ambulance…

    Killed on the phone interview, set up an in person interview and flew across country a few days later. Fell in love with the area as soon as I landed, more determined then ever to get this job. It’s a small industry, and I was confident after the phone interview went so well. Showed up to the address to find a hand written sign with a hand-drawn map to the new location around the corner. Couldn’t find the place. Drove all around, called the recruiter, nothing. Panic sets in as the HR person calls me and guides me in to the right building. I sat down for the interview and immediately went limp. Sweating, feeling faint, I powered through the 2.5 hour interview, insisting all along that I was ok…until I wasn’t anymore and needed to lay down. On the floor. They called an ambulance, I got checked out and was ok. Someone gave me a snack pack of like 5 peanut M&Ms. I finished the interview, walked out and passed out in the rental car for about 30 minutes. Woke up, felt ok to drive back to the hotel and about halfway there, I projectile vomited all over the inside of the rental car while driving 65 miles an hour in southern California traffic.

    Didn’t get the job, moved out here anyways, and ended up working with my interviewer’s partner for about 6 months at a different plant. She already knew the story, and who I was so she got to laugh at me for a few weeks before telling me who her partner was.

      1. Spacey O*

        Yep…Panic over not finding the place and anxiety overload.

        From what I understand I wouldn’t have been happy there at all, and I’m thriving at the place I ended up.

  51. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

    Ah, I missed this last week because I was on vacation! I was once in an interview at an university for an office position. It was an interview by committee, but one person was the lead interviewer. She mentioned that I’d have to have a background check because they worked with minors. But in that moment, my brain heard, “miners,” and was *flummoxed.* I asked for clarification and when she explained people under 18, I laughed and joked about how I had mixed up the words. I think most people around the table were understanding/amused but she was not. I didn’t get the job, but it’s probably for the best anyway.

    1. Grabthar's Hammer*

      And now I’ve got Tony Shalhoub and Alan Rickman from Galaxy Quest in my head. “Miners, not minors!”

  52. Emma*

    #5 reminded me of the time that I joined a meeting and was announcing myself, and for a solid 3-5 seconds I couldn’t remember my first name. Luckily the call was internal with only a handful of people, all of whom liked me, and so we got a good laugh out of it. Brains are so weird!

  53. Kesnit*

    Just after the New Year, my boss at my last job interviewed a guy for one of our open positions. The interview was supposed to start about 10. I remember walking past my boss’s office just after noon and seeing the door still closed. “Wow,” I thought, “that interview must be going really well! It’s been over 2 hours!”
    Later that day, I found out that the interview itself was about 30 minutes. But the guy would not shut up. My then-boss could not get him to leave. It got to the point that our Office Manager (whose office connected to the boss) was considering creating an emergency to get the guy to leave.
    Obviously, that guy did not get an offer.

    And there is an addendum. I am now in a new job in a nearby city. I got talking to one of the new hires in the equivalent office to the job I used to have. He commented that he had interviewed in my old office and that he thought it had gone well because the interview lasted 3 hours. Yup, same guy. I will NEVER tell him that he was the joke of that office.

  54. HailRobonia*

    Tangential to #1: Near my house is a cemetery where frequently go for walks. There is one prominent gravestone with the family name “Early” and every time I see it I think “there is the early grave we’re all working ourselves into…”

    It has actually given me incentive to find a better job (my current office is – and I say this with no hyperbole – toxic and stifling. It’s one of those places where if you do good work they give you more work but no compensation to match.

  55. FuzzBunny*

    #12 reminds me of a faculty candidate’s teaching demo. He told us he uses a flipped model of teaching, where students watch video lectures on their own time, with class time reserved for group work, discussion, etc. Totally fine. Except that for his demo, he announced that he would be showing us one of his videos. He hit play, and then proceeded to sit down. In other words, we’d flown him halfway across the country so that he could show us a video.

    That would be bad enough, but two other details make it even more atrocious:
    1. The video was horrible. I don’t even remember all the details, but I do know that at one point it included a full musical photo montage.
    2. This was AFTER the interview itself, where his answer to the softball “why do you want to work here?” was for him to burst into tears and tell us that he actually didn’t want to, but his wife would divorce him if he didn’t look for jobs in our part of the country. Oof!

  56. UncleFrank*

    I HAVE TO KNOW (yes, I’m yelling!) what field #12 was in. I’m betting economics, because I’m also an economist and I can’t imagine any other discipline being so obnoxious (but maybe I’m not giving the other disciplines enough credit!)

  57. Paul Z*

    Just some off-the-cuff reactions to all these poor people!

    1: Funny, but probably don’t suggest to companies that you’re fine with them working you into your grave!
    2: Everyone makes bad decisions as teenagers. At least you know now!
    3: Props to hiring manager for understanding. It’s a thing! It happens to a lot of people!
    4: I assume you didn’t hire this guy. That is some cluelessness right there.
    5: Ouch. Sometimes your brain just shuts off for no reason at all, and whatever you’re doing at the time gets totally botched. This was probably not the bluff to make though!
    6: Rule of thumb: anything you do while unclothed is probably not something you should talk about at work. Ever.
    7: As it should be. People fart. It happens. It shouldn’t be a big deal.
    8: I could see this having worked, honestly. This isn’t as bad as you think.
    9: This is… I don’t know what this is. It’s something. Something terrible.
    10: The great thing about “I was drunk at the time” is that it’s a perfectly conservative excuse. Nothing radical or innovative about it. People have been using this excuse for having done something stupid since before recorded history. The earliest recorded recordkeeping errors we have available were made by a Sumerian warehouse manager named Kushim (also, a strong contender for the earliest definitely real person whose name we know) miscounting the amount of barley he had available for making beer. Because, presumably, he was drunk at the time.
    11: Yeah, me too, sometimes. Penalty for the interviewer for not understanding.
    12: Yikes.
    13: This is a bloody stupid question and you probably should have just walked out then and there. Arguably, that’s what you did.
    14: Having done plenty of group projects in college, I would often have WELCOMED an experienced 30-year-old enforcing their will on the group.
    15: People are officially allowed to talk to themselves while sitting on the porcelain throne in the rest room. No adverse inferences can ever be drawn against someone overheard during this time.
    16: I’m not familiar with the STAR format, but…. yikes, that’s a lot of dead air. What happened?!
    17: I administer exactly this sort of coding interview all the time and you would be amazed at what perfectly intelligent people just forget in a crunch. Test anxiety is real!
    18: Everyone makes bad decisions as teenagers. At least now you know! (c.f. story 2)

  58. LucyGoosy*

    omg I just remembered this–years ago I was working at a nonprofit that was hiring a new CEO. The board had already gone through several interviews with the candidates, and one of the last trials for the finalists was a presentation for the whole staff about their vision for the company. Our CEO had been forced to resign due to some political skullduggery and many staff had resigned in protest, so the staff was admittedly exhausted and worried about our futures. The first candidate began, “I know you all have been through a difficult transition. I really, truly appreciate how hard you must be working given all of this uncertainty.” We all perk up–she’s thinking of us? Really? She then goes on, “I had a very painful divorce recently, and so I know a LOT about difficult transitions.” Reader, she went on to explain what her bitter divorce had taught her about organizational transition. I believe it led to an exercise where we all brainstormed ways to overcome our traumas. She was not hired, and I think we all thought we dodged a bullet.

    In a twist, the other candidate was extremely polished, professional and had a lot of brilliant insights about how she would turn the company around. She was hired and promptly laid us all off.

  59. stitchinthyme*

    My most memorable job interview: I left my phone at home because the battery was almost dead. I took a wrong turn and got there 15 minutes late, and of course was unable to call because I didn’t have my phone. It was summer and I was panicking because I was so late, so I came in all hot and sweaty. But the company owner (small company) was understanding and the interview proceeded after he offered to reschedule and I assured him I was fine.

    The company owner was a talker, and as the interview had started late in the day, I was still there at 7pm, when the phone rang. Since everyone else had long since gone home, the owner answered it and said, “It’s for you.” Turned out that my husband had gotten worried because I wasn’t home yet, saw that I didn’t have my phone, found the info about where I was on my computer screen, and called, never expecting that the actual owner would answer. I was completely mortified.

    However, I did get the job. The owner and I occasionally laughed about what happened during the interview later.

    My other favorite: one of a group of interviewers asked me how I’d solve a specific programming problem (I’m a software developer). I had no clue (and to this day, 20 years later, it’s not something I’ve ever actually had to worry about), so I just said, “Well, I’d just ask you, since you seem to know how to do it.” I also got that job, and the interviewer later told me he loved my answer.

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