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5 Bad Interviews | Lessons Learned and Tips for Success

5 bad interviews

Stepping into an interview room can feel both exciting and daunting. We’ve all been there: practising likely questions and responses in advance, extensively researching the company, and motivating yourself into feeling confident.

Yet sometimes, despite our very best efforts, interviews can take an unexpected nosedive into the cringe-worthy.

What can bad interviews teach us?

What matters is how you handle the situation. Managed right, not only do you maintain your self-respect, but you give hiring managers real, unrehearsed insight into who you are and what you’re like to work with. In this post, we share 5 real-life horror interview stories from both job seekers and hiring managers, and how the interviewees extricated themselves with dignity.

We also highlight what can be learned from each of these experiences.

#1 The Vomiter

“So, there was this lady who rocked up to the interview a good 25 minutes late, looking like she’d been through the wringer. She said sorry a bunch of times but didn’t give any reasons for being late. I asked her if she needed a couple of minutes to chill before getting started, but she said no.

We chatted about her background and the job, and the whole time, she looked like she was about to melt from sweat. Then, in the middle of answering one of my questions, she dashed for the trash can and threw up big time. We cleaned up the mess together, and then we finished up the interview.

I figured it was just nerves, but she actually did pretty well despite looking rough. I was also impressed about how she handled what was clearly an embarrassing situation for her. So, I hired her. Later on, she told me her child was sick and had passed it on to her. She knew it was the only interview slot I had available that week because I was travelling the next day.

The poor lady threw up on herself, dashed home to change, and hurried back as fast as she could. She was all about not making excuses, which is why she only spilled the beans after she’d got the job.”

Lesson learned: While you definitely shouldn’t attend a job interview sick, perseverance, professionalism, and not making up excuses in an extremely challenging situation can actually pay off (consider it an on-the-spot example of your ability to cope under pressure!)

#2 The Frat Society

“Last year, I was wanting to get out of enterprise life and pivot towards startups. I applied to this one startup and got a call asking me to swing by the following Saturday. Right off the bat, that struck me as a bit odd.

So, Saturday rolls around, and I hop on a train to their location. It was about an hour away from home, not super close but not crazy far either. I get to the address they gave me, and it looks like a nice enough building. I give the guy a call to let him know I’m downstairs, and then I hear my name coming from the side of the building. Lo and behold, there’s the CEO standing there. We say hi, nice to meet you, and so on, Then he took me around the back to what looked like a side entrance to the inside parking lot. He waved for me to follow him into this dark, unlit basement. That was their office.

At that point, I’m already thinking about making a run for it, but I stick around for the sake of being polite. He introduced me his “crew” and showed me their workspace. Now, to be fair, it was a legit tech startup, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the idea of working in a basement with ten other “crew” dudes, with the only light coming from this tiny window in the corner.

Their idea of an “interview” wasn’t so much about my skills as it was about trying to sell me on their frat boy lifestyle. They were chatting about drugs, strippers, and drinking as if it was part of the job description. They said some other questionable stuff, but that was the final straw for me. So I politely thanked them for their time and skedaddled home.

Soon after I got a job at a more normal start-up. I stopped being lazy about interview prep and researching potential employers in a LOT of depth. But I’ve never forgotten that experience.”

Lesson learned

Trust your instincts and maintain your standards during the job search process. This interview highlights the significance of thorough research and due diligence when exploring potential job opportunities. Secondly, we appreciate the value of recognizing red flags and being willing to withdraw from opportunities that don’t align with your values or career goals. It’s always OK to walk away!

#3 The Criminal Gang

“I was at a job interview for a security role at a legal firm. The interviewer was being a bit hostile, but I put it down to them wanting to scare off the more nervous types. Until out of nowhere, the interviewer told me, “We have a policy to make sure our employees have no ties to criminal gangs. So, we’re gonna need you to do something for us.”

I was like, um, OK. Wasn’t sure what would happen next.

Then he hits me with it: “We need you to roll up your sleeves and pant legs. We need to check for any gang tattoos.”

I’m stunned. Like, seriously? I can’t believe what I’m hearing. But then, this weird mix of indignation and defiance kicks in. Instead of freaking out, I surprise myself by saying, “Sure, no problem. Let me take my clothes off so you can check me all over then.”

His face was priceless – total shock. But I was dead serious. I stood up, unbuttoned my shirt and pants, and peeled them off. There I was, standing in this fancy office, shirtless and pants down, feeling kinda exposed but also strangely empowered.

The guy began stuttering, trying to say no just your sleeves, but I’m not having it. I just calmly say, “Look, if you wanna judge me based on some ink, go ahead, look everywhere. But I’m not hiding anything.”

I then put my clothes back on, nodded, and walked out like a boss. They called me a few times that afternoon, but I ignored them. Too many red flags.”

Lesson learned

This interview underscores the importance of sticking up for yourself and maintaining your dignity during job interviews. It highlights the value of responding calmly but assertively to inappropriate requests and standing up against discrimination in professional settings (although we wouldn’t recommend going so far as to strip off your clothes under any circumstances).

#4 The KPI (Non) Enthusiast

“I really wish I’d known that it’s okay to end an interview early if it’s not going well. This one crashed and burned so badly I’ve got 3rd degree burns!

During one interview, which I should’ve cut short by 20 minutes, I ended up enduring ridicule and humiliation from one of the interviewers. At the time, I was about 23 and eager to land a job at a specific company, so I pushed through to the second stage, hoping to impress.

Things went south when I was asked about my current targets with a supplier. I didn’t want to tell them, so I said I didn’t know. That’s when the interviewer snapped, accusing me of being unprepared and nitpicking my other KPIs.

When I still hesitated to share confidential information, she became even more hostile. She made it clear that she felt her time was wasted and basically dismissed me with a “don’t expect to hear from us” at the end.

Because I was working for a competitor at the time, I figured she wanted insider info, and was mad when she didn’t get it. I was glad in the end – imagine working for someone like that!”

Lesson learned

It is totally OK to (politely) end an interview early if the recruiter is being inappropriate. A general rule of thumb is, how you’re treated at interview is how you’ll be treated by the company if you joined them. If an interviewer is making you uncomfortable to the point that you’ve had enough, simply tell them, “Thank you very much for your time. I think we should end things here. It’s clear our needs are not aligned.”

#5 The Party Girl

“So, I applied for this admin gig at a finance company. They called me within 4 hours for an interview. Well, things took a weird turn real fast.

I get there, meet the two interviewers, and we dive into the usual interview questions. But then, they started asking super personal questions – who I live with, if I’m single, you name it. Odd, but I’m desperate, so I roll with it.

Then it gets even weirder. They start drilling me about a company, which I’ve applied to recently. It’s like they know something about my application or saw me there last week.

Next thing I know, the guy asks if I get nervous or angry. I say sometimes, and then he drops a bomb – he says I’ve got a “long face” that could scare staff and customers. Like, what? I’m floored but try to laugh it off.

Then they grill me about dealing with different cultures and races, and if I party too much because I’m young. Like, seriously? I’m just trying to land a stable job here.

At the end, they hit me with “we’re looking for someone just like you, but…” and start questioning if I’ll even show up for work, because I’m so young and young people like to party. I’m left feeling confused and pretty shaken up by the whole thing.

I tried to keep it together, but inside, I was ready to bolt. I wish I was brave enough to end the interview as soon as they started with the inappropriate stuff. I shouldn’t have put up with humiliation out of desperation for a job. Thankfully, they never contacted me again.”

Lesson learned

No one should ever feel belittled or under personal attack in an interview, no matter how old or young you are. You won’t lose opportunities by asserting boundaries and prioritizing self-respect during job interviews: there is no opportunity to be gained in a sea of red flags.


Yes, bad interviews suck. No matter how meticulously we prepare and do everything right beforehand, interviews can and do occasionally take unexpected turns.

Yet, it’s in these moments that our true character shines through. By navigating these challenges with grace and composure, we not only maintain our dignity, but also provide well-meaning hiring managers with genuine insight into our suitability for the role.

So, the next time an interview veers off-course, trust your instincts, don’t ignore red flags, and carry yourself with self-respect and professionalism.

No matter what, important lessons that can be learned from every bad interview.

Key takeaways:

  1. No matter how well you prepare, bad interviews are part-and-parcel of the job search experience
  2. How you handle bad interviews reveals a lot about your character (and helps you get out of similar situations faster in future!)
  3. Perseverance and professionalism in challenging situations can impress potential employers
  4. Trust your instincts - recognize red flags during the interview process and maintain your standards
  5. It’s totally OK to politely end an interview early if you’re uncomfortable or if it’s not going well
  6. Prioritize self-respect and professionalism, even in the face of unexpected or disrespectful interview behaviors

Video: Mastering the job interview | How the right strategy helps you nail every interview

You have a compelling LinkedIn profile and an engaging resume. You made it past the recruitment algorithms. You caught the eye of the recruiter. And you were invited for an interview. Now, all you need to do is nail it and the job is yours. Not quite! There’s still an essential part of the equation you need to complete: PREPARATION.

Unfortunately, over 95% of job seekers fail the interview because they don’t adequately prepare. That’s not going to be you. This MasterClass is a bulletproof guide to nailing every interview with step-by-step instructions on how to stand out from the competition. Because from the first second a recruiter lays eyes on you, they’re asking themselves these 3 questions:

  • Does this person have the skills for the job?
  • Does this person have the right mindset?
  • Will they fit into our culture?

Mastering the Job Interview will teach you how to best demonstrate your SKILL, WILL, and FIT: the SKILLS TO SUCCEED in the job, the WILL TO SUCCEED in the job, and your FIT into the COMPANY CULTURE.

For more insights, tips and strategies related to this topic, be sure to read our other articles: What’s an elevator pitch - and how will it land me great jobs? & How to Prepare for Job Interviews with AI - Questions & Prompts

Related questions

What should I do if an interviewer is inappropriate during the interview?

If an interviewer is inappropriate during the interview, remain calm and professional. You can address the issue politely or, if it continues, end the interview by thanking them for their time and stating that the job does not seem to be a good fit. Reflect on the experience to understand any red flags and protect your self-respect.

How can I recover from a nervous mishap during an interview?

To recover from a nervous mishap during an interview, take a deep breath and acknowledge the mistake calmly. Use humor if appropriate and quickly refocus on the question or topic at hand. Demonstrating composure and the ability to recover gracefully can impress the interviewer and show your resilience.

What are some red flags to watch for in job interviews?

Red flags in job interviews include unprofessional behavior from the interviewer, inappropriate questions, vague job descriptions, and a negative company culture. If the interviewers are unable to clearly explain the role or display disrespectful behavior, it may indicate deeper issues within the company, and it might be best to consider other opportunities.

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