I've Said Some Really Stupid Stuff In Job Interviews

Please, learn from me -- then make me feel better by telling me your best interview blunders.
Publish date:
September 26, 2013
career, career advice, job interviews

After a summer full of freelancing, sitting by the pool, and attempting to not murder my boyfriend, who sits directly behind me as we both work from home during the day, I'm now actively looking for a full-time gig. You know, one that takes me out of my apartment and around other people I can call "team members."

And this search has reminded me: I sometimes suck at interviews.

"Write a story about the horrible things you say in interviews!" Jane Pratt said as I left her office after my first meeting with her and Emily back in January, before I started writing for this site. A meeting that was kind of like, hmn, an INTERVIEW.

But it was cool. I had divulged the fact that I sometimes say very regrettable things in interviews. Because I get easily nervous, and I'm really not at my best when I'm nervous, and I got text messages from three people on my way to xoHQ reminding me to breathe.

People who know me well are generally surprised I don't slaughter every interview I enter. I'm sociable, get called charming a lot, and my therapist laughs at all of my jokes. I'm also super passionate and enthusiastic about what I do, and have a pretty good résumé for someone my age.

But that's the thing: Add mega-excitement and pre-interview nervousness to my already sometimes over-the-top personality, plus a slew of self-doubt (many of the interviews I've failed miserably at were for fashion sites at NYC, where I would've had to take a $10 K pay cut to churn out 7+ posts a day -- but would be compensated in GLAMOUR and free things!) and you have one Crazy Caitlin.

That's why I loved this recent column on LinkedIn from Virgin Group founder Richard Branson where he suggests personality is key to the hiring process. Branson writes:

The first thing to look for when searching for a great employee is somebody with a personality that fits with your company culture. Most skills can be learned, but it is difficult to train people on their personality.

He goes on:

[Personality] is not something that always comes out in interview -- people can be shy. But you have to trust your judgment. If you have got a slightly introverted person with a great personality, use your experience to pull it out of them. It is easier with an extrovert, but be wary of people becoming overexcited in the pressure of interviews.

Overexcited, kind of crazy and word-vomiting-all-over-yourself -- what's the difference, right?

So let's just get to it. Here are all the stupid things I've ever said in interviews:

STUPID THING I SAID #1: "Fucking-- shit. Fuck."

WHAT WAS HAPPENING: This is sort of anticlimactic to start with, as it was my worst interview ever. The job wasn't for me, but I didn't know that until I got there -- the mutual contact who arranged it didn't properly explain the position to me, and I think she thought I was more desperate for a job than I was. Oh, and I chugged a latte on my way to the interview.

From the second I got into this poor hiring guy's office, I was shaking madly, like I'd been up for three days. I spoke too quickly. And eventually, a swear came out. And then one more. And then another one.

It was a more creative, laid-back environment, but I knew what I had done was far from professional, and there was no way to redeem myself, which probably just made my mouth diarrhea worse.

WHAT I LEARNED: Don't over-caffeinate before interviews. In fact, lay off the coffee entirely and let adrenaline do its thing. Think before you speak -- and speak at a pace that won't have the interviewer wondering if you're coked up.

STUPID THING I SAID #2: "Marketing is stupid."

WHAT WAS HAPPENING: This interview overall was OK. I said a few things I wish I hadn't said in hindsight. That's common.

But this bomb of a statement came at the very end. And I could tell by the look on the editor's face that I had said the WRONG thing, and I think it cost me the gig.

WHAT I LEARNED: You know how you're never supposed to speak poorly about past positions or employers? I think that rule was foremost in my mind -- along with my bubbling hatred for my then-job that I really wanted out of. That combo led to this really horrible, vague utterance that still baffles me.

I've since learned to prevent anything like this from slipping out of my food hole by re-framing all of my past positions positively. The most insane "eccentric" bosses, hours organizing spreadsheets, or overtime with zero compensation, recognition, or foresight of a promotion -- those were learning experiences. My shitty boss taught me how to be a better manager and my many hours doing bitch work has taught me how to delegate tasks among a group. It's taken some hindsight, but it's worked.

STUPID THING I SAID #3: "I don't even own a pair of black pants."

WHAT WAS HAPPENING: Ugh, Lord. This was at a recruiting office I got called into. I came in that plaid maxi skirt I wear all the time, a black tank top, and a jean jacket. I thought I looked cute! My interview with my immediate recruiter was going swimmingly. Then she calls her manager over to further vet me.

The first thing this woman does? Waves her hands over me like a magician and asks, "Do you always dress so creatively?" I laughed and said this back.

WHAT I LEARNED: Similar to how I've come to terms with my position being a bit "unique" as I write personal stuff on the Internet, I know wearing a suit for the gig means the culture fit is obviously WAY off. But I still wear a LBD to all interviews I go on now. Better safe than sorry! (Or sweating, which I also tend to do in interviews.)

Your turn! Tell me about your best interview blunders! How do you calm yourself before job interviews or big, scary meetings? Do you agree with Our Lord Richard Branson about personality in the workplace?

Follow me on Twitter, where I'm trying to be job appropriate: @caitlinthornton.