We’ve all had to do it… the dreaded job interview.
“Is my resume right?”
“Am I over dressed?”
“What kind of insane questions are they going to ask me?”
We can all get stressed AF worrying about whether or not we’re going to do well, but what if you didn’t care?
The following 15 people share their shockingly honest stories about how they said what was exactly on their mind, which was definitely too much for these companies to handle.
1. “Thank you but you’re nothing special…”
“I’m in tech sales and this happened a few years ago.
In an interview with a VP of Sales, I was asked what to do if the product I was selling only fit half of the buyer’s requirements checklist.
I said I would recommend the prospect evaluate other products to see whether a better fit was available, rather than push them to purchase something they would be dissatisfied with.
They would figure out they had the wrong product sooner or later, and the support and follow-up required to remedy the problem would end up costing the company more.
He replied, ‘Thank you but you’re nothing special,’ and walked out of the room.
I was shocked and sat there for about 10 minutes. No one came back so I ended up walking myself out.”
2. “It didn’t go down well.”
“This one didn’t end up costing me the job offer as such, but it would’ve cost me the job offer from the person who was interviewing me:
Interviewer: ‘Can you tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership skills?’
Me: ‘Do you really want me to? Because I can do that if you like and give you some story and blah blah blah, but it seems like you’re kinda just asking that because you think that’s what you’re supposed to ask in an interview, rather than because you actually care? So we could talk about more interesting stuff if you’d rather do that.’
This was from one of the many interviews I went through during my internship at Lehman Brothers.
I said it partly because I was absolutely sick to death of answering stupid interview questions from people who didn’t care what my answers were and partly because I genuinely wanted to know what the other person was actually thinking and partly because I wanted to see what happened.
I wasn’t intending it to sound aggressive or non-cooperative, though obviously I was aware that was a risk.
My hope was that we’d actually be able to have a proper constructive conversation as a result. As an interviewer, I’d love to have someone respond that way, though I wouldn’t ask that question because frankly I’d rather smack my head against the desk for 15 minutes than sit through an interviewee giving me canned answers they’d rehearsed over and over again.
It didn’t go down well.
I don’t know for sure what the feedback was from that interviewer, because I had multiple interviews that day, and everyone had to give some feedback. That was then filtered through HR and I was given general feedback and a couple of quotes. However, every other interview that day went well, so I’m pretty confident that the ‘he did not seem well-prepared’ came from that interviewer.
So it goes. I’m glad I gave it a try, and with all the other positive stuff that was going on that summer I could afford to blow it with that one particular trading desk.”
3. “Teach me something in 60 seconds that I don’t already know.”
“I was interviewing for a plant manager’s job, all my experience and skills sets boxes were checked, so to speak.
The interview was going well. The HR manager walks in to the middle of the interview and informs me that she will be joining the discussion to make this a team interview.
She starts asking bizarre questions. Like, ‘Teach me something in 60 seconds that I don’t already know.’ OK, off the beaten path of questions but I teach her how a man can carry his wallet to make it harder to be pick-pocketed.
She’s a woman and she would obviously not know that type of stuff. Her questions are really off. The original interviewer finishes and he asks if I have any questions for them. Of course I do, so I respond yes. He then tells me to be careful as there is only one question that is acceptable. I ask him if he has any concerns about my ability to perform well in the position we are discussing.
He tells me close, I should have asked him what is preventing them from offering me the job right now. I then tell them that I have other questions, they look puzzled but proceed to answer my questions.
I then get to a question about how on their website had talked about their valuing military veterans. I mention the plant manager by name who was quoted on their website.
The HR manager looks at me and explains that they are not sure where I got that information from and that that plant manger was 5 plant managers ago.
In my head, I’m thinking that was only a 2-year-old quote. So I asked why have the previous plant managers failed. She responds because they didn’t listen. I replied back, you have gone through five plant managers in less than three years and you think they are the problem? The recruiter later told me they wanted to hire me up till the end when I questioned their decision making skills.
Glad I changed their mind.”
4. “crawling from 10%, to 20%”
“I was interviewing with Apple for a marketing position.
One of the interviewers was the product manager for the Safari browser.
I pointed out that one reason that I preferred Chrome over Safari was because Safari’s progress bar in the URL box made page loads seem slower than they really were, if you saw the bar crawling from 10%, to 20%, and so on, it had a negative psychological effect because it caused you to think about how much more time it was going to take for the page to load.
I’m not sure if that was the answer that prevented me from advancing, but it sure was a mistake.”
5. “Um, why are you here?”
“I was interviewed for a job with the title ‘communications executive.’ I didn’t get past the first question.
Interviewer: ‘Tell me why you want to work in sales.’
Me: ‘I don’t.’
Interviewer:’Um, why are you here?’
Me: ‘The job title doesn’t mention sales, nor did the ad. Your office wouldn’t give me any further details when I phoned, so it never crossed my mind this was a sales job.’
Interviewer: ‘It is . . . There’s probably not much more to talk about.’
Me: ‘I doubt it.’
Interviewer: ‘Did it take you long to get here?’
Me: ‘About an hour.
I was allowing plenty of time because I didn’t want to be late.’
Interviewer: ‘Um, sorry.’”
6. “They did not seem amused and I was not impressed with their attempts at answers.”
“Several years ago, I had submitted my resume to multiple companies. A couple of major companies had jumped on it and went through their hiring process very efficiently, quickly reaching the point of preparing offers.
Suddenly, a Google recruiter calls me up; it had taken them literally a month or so from submission.
After that initial phone screen, they invited me to an on-site interview. I said, ‘Sure,’ thinking that at least it’d be fun to see what the company looks like from the inside.
The on-site interviews were frankly rather underwhelming considering the scary stories you see all over the web.
In the end, I had opportunity to ask a few questions.
Since I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about Google at this point, I asked something along the lines of, ‘Looking from the outside, your product selection process looks like throwing a bunch of cheese balls into the wall to see what sticks.
Besides the ads, do any of your other products actually make any money?’ They did not seem amused and I was not impressed with their attempts at answers.
A few weeks later, the Google recruiter calls to tell me that they won’t be moving forward.
She seemed genuinely surprised when I did not appear heartbroken; I guess she thought everyone desperately wants to work for Google. I did not really give a hoot anyway since I had already chosen between three other opportunities.”
7. “I think you can sense my level of interest in this position.”
“I saw an opportunity at a small agency which had recently been acquired by a large tech company. My primary goal was to sell them contracted service for specialized training. But the position they were offering intrigued me.
It was a convenient commute, the benefits at this large company were excellent, and the position had just the right amount of balance of what I’d be extremely proficient at, and what I’d be challenged by. But here’s the thing – I’ve been freelance for so long that the thought of a 9–5 (or more) job wasn’t particularly appealing. Being over 50 and freelance means you can and do take a nap whenever you want.
This particular corporate culture required a full-time commitment and it appeared there was little opportunity for flex-time or remote work. In other words, I really didn’t want to work that much. Employers don’t usually pursue candidates with that kind of attitude. Anyway, I made 2 mistakes during the phone interview, I admitted my freelance hourly rate, and admitted my half-hearted interest in the job.
And my tone was nothing but pure, unfiltered honesty. Again, my primary purpose was to sell some contracted training to the particular team with the open position.
I was successful in learning about the team, and identifying the right, qualified decision-maker. I was upfront about my goal, and when the interviewer asked whether my interest was the position or the contracted work, I answered ‘either/or.’ But the interviewer immediately classified me as over-qualified me when she heard my hourly rate.
Interviewer: ‘Oh, this is a production-level job, you wouldn’t be happy with the compensation.’
Me: ‘I don’t want to oversell myself, I think you can understand that as a freelancer I certainly don’t do 40 billable hours a week at that rate. The salary range is fine, and a production-level job is what I’d be highly proficient at, my skills and experience in the system and platform you’re adopting make me a perfect fit at that level.’
Int: ‘And you understand this is a full-time, on-site position?’
Me: ‘I understand, but is there any flexibility in schedule or remote work?’
Int: ‘No. But…’ [she rattles off the okay-sounding holiday and vacation day policies].
Let me interject that pausing during phone negotiations is an effective tactic in sales. Whoever feels uncomfortable enough to speak first is often the one that breaks down and either reveals something or submits to the other one.
Trouble is, this wasn’t just some bored HR person working through a pile of resumes, this was a high level recruiter, with excellent interviewing skills.
I broke first.
Me: ‘I think you can sense my level of interest in this position.’
Int: ‘Yes, and if there’s any opening in the future for a position at your level we’ll let you know.’
Which is code for ‘if this guy ever submits a resume again, just throw it out.’ I got the little 3-day training gig I was after, but I wish I had lied a little, and pretended I had a little more enthusiasm for the position. I could have done a couple of years there and quit after saving a little cash. But then, I probably would have let that slip too.”
8. “…two gigantic updates that stressed good reputations over sleazy tactics.”
“I tanked an interview on purpose. Walked in for a web design/programming gig. Everyone immediately ducked behind their screens when the boss walked out.
One employee gave me a sad look like, ‘Don’t do it.’
The interview started. The two guys in charge were very proud of how they ‘do the Google’ to attract customers.
This means they use varying tactics to show up prominently in Google’s search results pages. It’s typically low quality Search Engine Optimization. If they sold yellow boxes of facial tissues and you wanted to buy a yellow box of facial tissues online, then they would have done a lot to make sure Google points to their site for a ‘yellow facial tissues’ search.
Some of it is good for end users, some of it is bad for the entire Internet.
Anyway, that was their gimmick. They ‘do the Google.’ Another gem was, ‘We’ve read a book and a couple of blogs, and we think we know what we’re doing.’
So, I decided to be completely honest. I told them that end users wanted a site to have a good reputation more than good rankings. I stressed that it’s important to have a presence, message, and outreach that’s attractive to clients.
I said that Google was soon going to follow those end users. They got frustrated, even a little upset, and the interview ended. Then I made the hour-long drive home and felt glad to be out of there.
Within the next year, Google pushed two gigantic updates that stressed good reputations over sleazy tactics.
I have no regrets.”
9. “Of course I’m a Superstar and you’d be an idiot not to hire me.”
“A friend told me about a job where he worked which involved a technical management position building a theme park.
The hiring VP was out of the country, but his assistant decided to fly me to California four days before the interview so the team could meet me and I could better understand the scope of the project.
I dove right in and attended all of the planning meetings and design sessions. In the second meeting I made a suggestion the resulted in savings of over half a million dollars.
Several other similar suggestions over the next few days made me a shoe in for the job so I went to the actual interview with high expectations. Sitting across from the VP, it was pretty clear he was not pleased that I had become so engaged without his knowledge and seemed intent to find some weakness.
After several belligerent questions which clearly pointed to the fact that he wasn’t going to hire me, he finally shouted, ‘You must think you are some kind of Superstar!’
My immediate reply just before he ordered me out of his office was, ‘Of course I’m a Superstar and you’d be an idiot not to hire me.’ As you might imagine I did not get the job.”
10. “…when I replied with my number he literally spewed coffee all over his desk…”
“I had a second interview with a publisher for a senior editor slot at a medium-sized newspaper. I really wanted to stay in the area and was willing to compromise on money so when asked what my salary requirements were, I low-balled with a number that was at the absolute bottom of my scale.
The publisher was taking a drink of coffee at that moment and when I replied with my number he literally spewed coffee all over his desk and snapped, ‘That’s more than I make!’
End of interview.”
11. “Do you have Netflix?”
“I interviewed with Netflix a few years back and they asked me, ‘Do you have Netflix?’
I said ,’Well no, because I don’t want my kids to watch too much TV.’
They still continued the rest of the interview but it was pretty obvious that I didn’t make it.”
12. “But I didn’t want to do the job.”
“The exchange went like this:
Interviewer: ‘You don’t really want this job, do you?’
I was interviewing for a vacation job stacking shelves in Toys R Us over Christmas.
It was a crappy job with lousy pay. I was a Cambridge university undergraduate with an impressive CV.
I was there because I wanted to try to earn some money and I only had a few weeks away from university to do so.
My options were limited. If they’d hired me, I’d have worked hard and done a good job for them.
But I didn’t want to do the job. It was going to be mind-bogglingly boring and I was going to end up taking home just over £100 a week which wasn’t going to move the needle much.
So when I was asked outright, I felt like the appropriate response was to be honest. I did go on to explain the situation, but the truth was that I did not want the job.
The interviewer was concerned (rightly) that I was massively over-qualified, (rightly) that I would be bored and (wrongly) that I wouldn’t do a good job.
They actually ended up coming back to me a few weeks later after their initial selection hadn’t worked out for some reason, but by that point I had (thank god) found something else to do.”
13. “Your answer is incomplete. The client will not accept that answer.”
“I was interviewing for a consulting firm internship during my first year of business school. They sat me down, handed me a 3-page case description and said I had 3 minutes to read it.
Then the interviewer began asking a series of questions that relied heavily on data presented in the case. I was told that I could not see the case document again and that I had to give a concrete numerical answer to each question, even though his questions were such that any meaningful answer required considerable number-crunching.
The interviewer’s manner was aggressive.
He would cut me off and say things like, ‘Your answer is incomplete. The client will not accept that answer.’ After flailing at this for 10 minutes or so, I asked him to end the interview.
Looking somewhat surprised, he asked why. I said that, regardless of whether this type of interview was to measure my ability to think on my feet or to handle stress, the thing that it told me about them was that their culture was aggressive and discourteous, and that I probably wasn’t a good match for them.
I did not hear from them again.’
14. “to become CEO in a year or so.”
“I’ve had many.
On one occasion, the company head, who was interviewing me, said, ‘Here are the rules – I ask, you answer.’ I said sure, but first I’d like to know why they are hiring when the company looks as if it is about to go bankrupt.
I suppose that was the very question they were avoiding. In the end, they hired a colleague (and then went under in less than 6 months). Later I asked him why he took the job and he said he was leaving his wife and wanted to work in the other city where their head office was (and besides, he negotiated a good severance ahead of time).
For me, I’d often go to interviews because someone asked whom I couldn’t refuse and because I did want a change and so wanted the practice at interviewing, but knew some of these weren’t really good choices.
There are others I lost out on without knowing exactly why until shortly after. Once the recruiter asked about a backrest I used to carry to avoid back problems and I bragged about having a patent on it (I did actually), proud to show my inventiveness and creativity.
That led to a series of questions from him about whether I was fit enough to work, not to cost them on their sick plan, able to fly for business… ‘with my bad back.’ No amount of me telling him I used the backrest to AVOID HAVING a bad back would change his mind and a day or so later I got the rejection call I pretty much expected. In another (all these were for HR VP jobs) they asked, what my long term, ultimate career goal was and I said, ‘To be the biggest and best HR VP on earth.’
I learned later from seeing who they chose that the answer they wanted was, ‘to become CEO in a year or so.’ (That was the answer he’d given me when I asked him that for an organization I was on the board of, so I could guess that would have been ‘the right answer’ – and often you can’t guess at the time). Why they wanted an HR expert who just saw the job as a one-year stepping stone I can only guess at, but you never know with some companies.
In all these, I wasn’t too worried about being brutally honest, since I had a pretty good job and was only interested if the one on offer actually looked better. By the time you get to the interview, your research should have answered that and your goal is to meet your potential new direct boss and see if he or she is any good.
The boss is the most important feature of any job! If it turns out something is wrong there are a hundred ways to get yourself rejected without burning bridges, just by being honest – and, honestly, you only want to work for a company that accepts honesty.”
15. “I told them this was impossible and asked if they wanted an honest employee…”
“I interviewed for a position which required 10 years of Adobe InDesign experience, at the time InDesign had been on the market for less than 7 years.
I told the interviewer I had experience with Quark and Pagemaker for over 10 years, but since InDesign was only 7 years old, I only had 7 years experience with that particular program.
The interviewer informed me they had many other applicants who had over ten years experience with InDesign. I told them this was impossible and asked if they wanted an honest employee or one who only told them what they wanted to hear?
I did not hear back so I guess I got my answer.”
True story, I once threw a job interview because the guy who would have managed me came off as a total mess. So I set expectations way too high when asked, “Where do you see yourself within the company in 6 months?
I told them that I expected to get a promotion in about 6 month’s time. The tone in the room changed immediately. Needless to say, they were not pleased. And I didn’t get the job.
Still, it was one of the most instructive experiences of my professional life because what it taught me is I do have control in those interviews. Basically, always (ALWAYS!) be willing to walk away from an interview if you don’t like what they’re saying or what their offer is. And never settle for less than what you think you’re worth. Because how you value yourself is the most important thing you can do in your career.
I guaranteed you that’s some advice you’ll use again and again. So remember it. 😎