Confession: Recruiters are hoarders. We hold onto the most bizarre interview stories. (Seriously, I could recount them for hours.) But I don’t just save these tales for cocktail parties, I like to share them with job seekers because they can provide genuinely valuable lessons.
An extreme example can help you take a step back and highlight where you, too, can stand to improve. To that end, here are three of my most memorable hall-of-shame stories—along with the lessons you can learn from these candidates’ interview mistakes.
1. The Phony Car Accident
One of my weirdest experiences involves an interview that didn’t even happen. A candidate called at the last minute, saying that he had gotten in a car crash on his way to the office and would have to postpone. He even went as far as sending me a picture of the crash.
However, the photo showed an accident in the pouring rain, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky outside my window. Following a hunch, I looked up “car crash” online and sure enough—right on page one—was the picture he’d sent me. He could’ve been honest (admitting he was running horribly late or he written down the wrong day), but he chose to lie, and that was a red flag that sunk his candidacy.
Lesson: Do Not Lie
I’ve heard people recommend playing up (or even making up) skills, experience, and accomplishments so your resume will grab a recruiter’s attention. But the truth is, we’ve seen it all—and we always thoroughly vet our candidates. So if you embellish on your cover letter, resume, or during an interview, it’ll eventually come to the surface and you’ll be out of consideration.
And if you keep your secret long enough to land the job? Those fibs will come back to haunt you down the line—often requiring a resignation.
2. The Sun Salutation
In the middle of an interview, a candidate once asked me if she could take her shoes off. I thought it was a little bit strange, but I was with a fairly laid-back company, so I told her to go ahead. If that was it, it probably would have been fine. But she must have gotten the message that this was an “anything goes” type of workplace—because she proceeded to do yoga poses throughout the entire interview.
I was caught off guard, and didn’t know what to say at the time, but you better believe she wasn’t on my follow-up list after that stunt.
Lesson: Remember, It’s an Interview
It’s true: Recruiters don’t want candidates who act like stiff, buttoned-up robots—safe, by-the-books responses aren’t enough to make you stand out and move onto the next round. But there’s such a thing as making yourself too comfortable during an interview.
Certain companies are definitely more relaxed than others, but that doesn’t mean recruiters don’t expect a baseline of professionalism. My best tip for knowing if something you’re about to do or say is appropriate? If you have to ask, it probably isn’t.
3. The Headstand
I remember an applicant who I really liked on paper and on the phone, so I took the next step and scheduled a video interview with him. In the beginning, everything was going great. He let us know what he could bring to the company, what interested him about the position, and how excited he was about this opportunity.
But then he said he’d do anything to get the position—and to prove it, he did a headstand on camera. After a few moments of silent shock, I carried on with the conversation, but the call ended shortly afterwards.
Lesson: Don’t Act Desperate
Yes, recruiters want candidate to show interest and enthusiasm, but if he or she lays it on too thick, it comes off as insecure, and honestly, kind of creepy. Not to mention, hiring someone with wildcard tendencies can be a liability: If you did a headstand in an interview, can we trust you to behave appropriately in front of higher-ups? Or with customers? The bottom line is, you don’t need to go to wild lengths to impress a recruiter. Confidently share how you’d add value to the company—that’s what we’re really looking for.
I know, interviews are stressful enough without thinking the other person will remember every odd thing you do. But if it makes you feel any better, I don’t just recall the people who blew it: I’ll never forget the people who knocked my socks off, either.
The point of these stories is to remind you that even when you worry about blowing a question here or there, you’re not the worst interviewee ever. Just steer clear of these major don’ts, and you’ll do just fine.