Bad job interviews always feel like literal nightmares. Here's a challenge you prepared for, maybe even practiced in front of the mirror for, a moment that could have a real effect on your life. But inevitably you find yourself stuttering and stammering, or sweating too much, or forgetting the brilliant point you wanted to make. Even if you actually perform well, the "we'll be in touch" at the end always feels like a knife in your stomach.
But keep your chin up, and save the deep self-loathing for something else. Chances are even your worst interview wasn't too terribly bad. You may have not gelled with the hiring manager or articulated where you see yourself in five years to the best of your ability, but absolute disasters are rare.
Job recruiters, however, go through a lot of these interviews, and they've seen it all—including the actual, for-real nightmares. We called up several job recruitment/placement agencies around New York City and asked them about the candidates that have come in and really, really bombed.
I am interviewing this guy who is wearing a funeral suit (a.k.a. the only suit you have that is way too big for you and you wear it to every formal gathering). He is also wearing a beanie. Five minutes into the interview he realizes he is wearing his beanie and so he takes it off, but forgets that he has a giant wad of toilet paper stuck to his head from a giant pimple he must've popped prior to the interview. The toilet paper is stuck to his head, and he is trying to rip it off, but the blood has clotted and is holding the tissue to his head. I'm sitting there like WTF and swallowing my laughs. (I laugh when shit hits the fan, it's a nervous thing.) Finally he gives up, and I proceed to interview him while toilet paper that is covered in blood is stuck to his head. He is also holding the wad he pulled off in his hand the hold time. Very awkward.
This one woman didn't even get to the interview before fucking it up. We'd set up an appointment with her. About half an hour before she was supposed to come in, she sends an email: "This is probably going to sound odd, but my turtle unexpectedly got very sick, and I had to deal with a lot of back and forth to the vet." She said she'd call the next day to discuss when she could come in. An hour after her weird cancellation, she wrote us back with an update. "Don't worry! I am walking my turtle in the park to get some sunlight."
OH, HELL NO
I am interviewing a motion graphic designer, and we are talking about his background. All seems normal, so we proceed to the the next step, and he pulls out his iPad to show me his reel. He hits play, and it is full-on anal porn. This guy is violently fucking this chick in the ass with full-on, tight anal shots. The designer just says "oops" and presses stop. Oh, hell no. Needless to say, we never placed him.
GO GURRRRL, BUT NO
We were in final rounds with a woman for a in-house designer role. We get the offer on the table and say the final step is just the background check. There is dead silence on the phone, and finally the woman says, "Well I have to go ahead and admit that I won't pass the criminal background check, because I caught my man cheating, so I burned that fucker's house down."
One time I had a candidate come in for an interview right around lunch, like 12:30 or 1. It's no big deal, we do it all the time and people make plans to eat before or after. But this one woman brought in food with her and attempted to eat it during the interview. And it wasn't something easy like a sandwich. I forget what it was, exactly, but it was messy. Like rotisserie chicken legs or something. I'm of course shocked, so I ask how she thinks it reflects on her as a potential employee of one of our clients. In between bites she says, "I know, I'm awful. I just know my body, and knew if I didn't eat I'd be brain-dead, so I figured it was the better option." It wasn't. If you're ever in that position, just come in with low blood sugar. You might seem a bit spaced-out or vacant, but trust me, we've seen a lot worse. Like someone eating wings or whatever in the interview, for instance.
One time I was interviewing a guy, and something was just very visibly off. You could tell his mind was somewhere else. He would ask me to repeat questions, head just wasn't in the game. After about 20 minutes of this, I just stopped and, very politely, said, "Is everything OK?" Without even missing a beat, he just started bawling. His dog had died that fucking morning. He thought he could make it through the interview. He couldn't. I sent him home and then reached out a couple weeks later to see about trying it again. He never returned my emails.
Employment is a two-way street. It has to be mutually beneficial. When people are only about themselves, I've found that they typically aren't the best candidates or employees. So maybe I'm sensitive to it, but when I'm interviewing someone who is asking about time off and salary before they've even sat down, I know I'm not placing them anywhere. Sometimes they even send off pre-interview red flags that warn you they're going to need a lot of hand-holding. If a potential candidate sends me emails asking what train to take to our building or where they should park when they get here, I always want to answer back, "Don't bother coming."
I had a guy openly hit on me during an interview. It was such a bummer because he was actually very qualified and very charming. We got along great, and I was happy about finding him work, which wouldn't have been hard. But just before we ended our interview, he said something about me having the most gorgeous eyes or smile or something. I said thanks, and tried to move on, but he just kept going on about it. I put my hand on the table just in case he hadn't seen my wedding ring before. It didn't help. He asked me out. I declined. I didn't place him. I was too worried for the women he might work with. If he couldn't keep together during an interview, could you imagine him at an after-work happy hour?
We actually placed a candidate who interviewed very well, but then almost immediately started getting calls from the client about terrible performance. She was hired to do marketing for a fashion/retail company, but was totally clueless about it. She took three-hour lunch breaks, would come in late, leave early. They started tracking her closely, making note of all the times she went AWOL so we could have it on record. One time she didn't show for a meeting she was supposed to lead. When we took her off the job, she was indignant, and swore up and down the company was lying. The day after we pulled her, she had the nerve to go back up and get her personal things.
We'll occasionally throw recruiter lunches where some clients we're working with come in and talk to some specific candidates we've invited. It's casual, and there's a lot less pressure on both sides. Just basically a networking function designed to let employers know about you and your expertise and get your name out. Well, one guy is talking to an employer when someone accidentally knocks into him. He drops his pizza, facedown, on the floor. He picked it up, brushed it off, and ate it. Right in front of the client. We still laugh about it. "Don't send me anyone who'd eat pizza off a floor in front of me," he'll say.