CareerBuilder Survey Finds Dumb Stuff People Do During Job Interviews

CareerBuilder does a lot of surveys centered around hiring and workplace practices, but this one on Most Memorable Interview Mistakes has to be one of the best.

That’s because it captures two qualities that are always fun to read about: “sign of the times” faux pas’ that aggravate us in everyday life, and, flat-out dumb missteps that no one in their right mind should be doing in a job interview when the goal is to put your best foot forward.

For example, here are the most harmful common mistakes, according to the CareerBuilder survey, that hiring managers say are most detrimental to your interview performance:

  • Answering a cell phone or texting during the interview — 77 percent;
  • Appearing disinterested — 75 percent;
  • Dressing inappropriately — 72 percent (note to self: good subject for a future blog post, with incredibly inappropriate examples I have personally observed.);
  • Appearing arrogant –72 percent (my personal favorite);
  • Talking negatively about current or previous employers — 67 percent; and,
  • Chewing gum — 63 percent.

Standing out from the crowd?

“It may seem unlikely that candidates would ever answer a cell phone during an interview, or wear shorts, but when we talk to hiring managers, we remarkably hear these stories all of the time,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder., in a press release about the survey.

She added: “However, for most job seekers avoiding a big mistake isn’t the issue – it’s standing out from the crowd. A successful interview is a presentation that marries one’s personality and professional experience to the needs of the hiring manager and the company. Knowing how to do that successfully can be difficult, but with preparation and practice, candidates can greatly improve their interview skills.”

I agree with Rosemary Haefner (who I know as a sharp and caring HR pro), but the mind boggles to think of how hard it is to even get a job interview these days only to hear of idiots blowing it by texting someone, or dressing in a way that embarrasses both themselves and the interviewer, or by talking trash about a previous employer. And although I agree that it’s great to find some way to stand out and be memorable in your job interview, making a bad impression is far worse than making no impression at all.

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Memorable interview experiences

CareerBuilder was also kind enough to send along some specific thoughts from hiring managers about their most memorable or unusual interview experiences. Some of the best include:

  • A candidate who asked, “What company is this again?”
  • The candidate who put the interviewer on hold during a phone interview. When she came back on the line, she told the interviewer that she had a date set up for Friday.
  • A candidate who wore a Boy Scout uniform and never told interviewers why.
  • A candidate who was arrested by federal authorities during the interview when the background check revealed the person had an outstanding warrant.
  • The candidate talked about promptness as one of her strengths after showing up 10 minutes late.
  • On the way to the interview, the candidate who passed, cut-off, and flipped his middle finger at the driver who happened to be the interviewer.
  • The candidate who took off his shoes during the interview.
  • A candidate told the interviewer she wasn’t sure if the job offered was worth “starting the car for.”

What are they thinking?

What is going on with these people? How could they be so out-and-out dumb? It’s like the the radio announcer says during a memorable losing streak in the movie Bull Durham — “What are these boys thinking about? Cause it sure ain’t baseball.”

According to CareerBuilder, the “survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive on behalf of CareerBuilder among 3,023 hiring managers and HR professionals (employed full-time, not self-employed, non-government) between November 9 and December 5, 2011 (percentages for some questions are based on a subset, based on their responses to certain questions). With a pure probability sample of 3,023, one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/- 1.78 percentage points. Sampling error for data from sub-samples is higher and varies.”

I love to hear about people who do dumb stuff in their job interview, and I’m guessing that TLNT’s broad and diverse readership has a lot of their own memorable experiences to add. Feel free to leave a few more here. If I get enough, I’ll be happy to compile them in another blog post.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


9 Comments on “CareerBuilder Survey Finds Dumb Stuff People Do During Job Interviews

  1. One of my favorite stories to tell aspiring graduates…the applicant who wore the T-Shirt that said “I have a bad attitude.  So what!”  No, he didn’t get the job!

  2. One of my favorites was the candidate who answered the question Why do you want to work here? with the answer “My parents told me I would make more here than working at McDonald’s”

  3. My favorite was the candidate who flushed the toilet during the phone interview. Did he not think we could hear that? 

  4. Candidate was unable to complete a presentation for the employer because his roomate spilled margarita’s all over his computer two days prior. I wonder if he knew anyone else with a computer in the year 2012? 

  5. My favorite was the candidate who came with her father.  He would not let her answer any question on her own. After the woman received the letter informing her that we had hired another candidate, he called me to argue about why she should have been hired.

  6. How about someone who updates her Facebook status during an interview? Or butt-dials the local Sheriff’s department? Both happened to the same candidate who went on to talk about how good she was at multi-tasking. We felt her talents would best be used elsewhere.

    Lee Reed
    Certification Connection

  7. In addition to finding lists like this a humorous break, I find them invaluable for preparing students at the school where I work for future job interviews. Many of our students have learning disabilities and mental impairments – including a large number with ASDs such as Aspberger’s syndrome. The job candidate who inexplicably began brushing her hair during the interview? The candidate who shows a disinterest or asks a seemingly bizarre, off-topic question? These candidates may not be idiots after all. The interviewer may be observing the outward signs of social awkwardness that those with Aspberger’s frequently exhibit. This is somewhere in between the faux pas and the idiotic. We work hard to prepare our students to be self-aware in these situations where a social tic may lead an interviewer to wrongly conclude that the candidate is not interested or not suited for the job. 

    Having had the opportunity to work in an educational setting for the past 5 years, being surrounded by humans in their least mature, least socially adept, and least knowledgeable state has really allowed me to change my perspectives and expectations as a human resources professional. 

    I may still laugh about it later, but I hope that I’m giving candidates more grace and am looking past social faux pas to get to knowledge, skills, and abilities much more today than I was 10 or 15 years ago.

  8. @John:  I only have 1 question.  What level of employee were these interviewees?  I can only “assume” that the overwhelming majority were low level.  In 16 years in Executive Search and now 4 years as a management consultant and career advisor, I never once had a candidate or client ever pull anything like you’ve discussed.

    1. Carol: You raise a good point, but I think every hiring manager has at least one story like this. In my career, I probably can point to 5-6 of them, and generally from reporters, copy editors, and other journalists vying for jobs at daily newspapers in the 50,000-350,000 circulation range. I doubt you would see much of this at the executive search level, but it may be that you just have led a charmed life and haven’t bumped into one — yet.

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