Bizarre interview experiences — True tales from managers & business owners

Phil Kendall

May 2019 ⋅ 7 min read

Here on the RotaCloud Blog, we've talked a lot about the interview and recruitment process over the years, covering everything from the right questions to ask, to how to choose between a pair of equally qualified candidates.

But, as we all know, interviews don't always go to plan. Life sometimes throws us a curveball — and that curveball usually comes in the form of something a candidate says or does while they're in the interview chair.

So, for this blog post, we thought we'd turn things over to you, the managers and business owners of the world, to see what we could learn.

The following is a collection of true stories about the most unusual encounters interviewers had while conducting job interviews. Cross your fingers that nothing like this ever happens to you!

But will the robots murder us?

Most candidates today know the importance of having a handful of questions ready to ask the interviewer at the end of the interview. These questions are usually designed to surreptitiously exhibit one's suitability or enthusiasm for the role, however, rather than discussing the imminent downfall of humankind...

"Over the years, I've had my fair share of odd and bizarre interviews," said Ian Wright, Founder of British Business Energy, via email. "But there was one that really stands out."

"She was a candidate for a senior digital marketing role," he explained, "but she didn't even understand the basic concept that Google and Facebook sell advertising and that we bought it.

"This was even odder because her resume said she'd had experience with paid media," he went on.

The interview went from bad to worse, however, when the candidate started asking questions along the lines of: "How do you know that Google and Facebook are the right marketing channels?" (The answer? "Years of experience and testing!"), and whether Ian was worried that robots or AI might take over the world.  

"In and of itself it's a fine question," Ian said of the unusual query, "but it's not really relevant to the job."

Sometimes, it's simpler to just ask about the company pension scheme...

The foul-mouthed gorilla

It's not unusual for employers to set candidates a practical task prior to inviting them to interview. Bret Bonnet, co-founder and president of Quality Logo Products, did just that in order to ascertain one interviewee's love and understanding of machine learning, asking them to build a chat bot application that "spoke like a gorilla."

But when it came time to interview and Bret asked the candidate to demonstrate the bot for him, he got more than he bargained for...

"[The bot] immediately began to respond with some very vulgar and sexually-charged responses," Bret told us.

"It got really dark, really fast."

Needless to say, the interview concluded shortly after the demonstration and the interviewee was not invited back for a second interview.

Perhaps the robots really will be the end of us after all...

Too much information

It's good to share a little bit about yourself at interview; most interviewers like it when candidates open up and give them some idea of whether they'd be a good fit for the team.

You should probably draw the line at revealing that your husband has a penchant for ladies of the night, however, as founder of HR Innovate Katerina Andreou discovered:

"A mature female candidate came to me for interview last year for a senior admin role," Katerina told us.  

"Apart from her super casual attire, she immediately began to ask me questions on behalf of her husband who also needed work."

But that wasn't all. The woman's husband, it transpired, was not without his flaws...

"She mentioned that she is a very forgiving person and, if we discount her husband’s addiction to porn and prostitutes, he would be a very good candidate for a job, although one without travel.

"She then resumed, without pause, to explain that addiction to prostitutes is made worse by travel somehow."

Unsurprisingly, Katerina decided against recommending the candidate to her client.

Walk a mile in someone else's socks...

In a crowded job market, it can be difficult to get noticed. But it's important to be remembered, just in case it comes down to you and one other candidate for the job.

One thing you probably shouldn't do, however, is climb on the table mid-interview.

"Some years ago, while teaching at the largest branch campus of a major university, I served on a committee that was hiring a coordinator to manage an off-campus satellite program designed for non-traditional students," Timothy Wiedman, a former Associate Professor at Doane University in the US.  

"One of our most important interview questions asked candidates how well they understood the pressures facing adult students, who usually had multiple responsibilities outside the classroom. This was a critical issue because these non-traditional students were often difficult to recruit and retain."

"During his on-campus interview, one very well-dressed candidate talked about his ability to empathise with other people, saying he would try to imagine 'walking a mile in their shoes.' At that point, he took off his well-shined shoes, climbed onto our mahogany conference table, and slowly stomped his stocking-clad feet on the table as he repeated the importance of 'walking a mile in their shoes!'"  

This surprising display went on for roughly seven or eight seconds, Timothy told us, though "it seemed a lot longer" to the members of the committee.

To top it all off, the candidate reportedly then got down from the table and slipped his shoes back on as if nothing in the slightest bit unusual had happened.  

Dress for success

They say that we should aim to dress for the job we want rather than the job we have. But sometimes we should just aim to wear something that isn't going to make the interviewer wince.  

"I've had a few bad interviews over the last couple of months as our team is growing," Zach Hendrix, Co-founder of lawn-care company GreenPal told us. "Most of them are software engineers and these guys kind of march to the beat of their own drum."

"A couple of months ago, a young coder fresh out of high school comes in wearing a T-shirt that says Gatorade [a popular energy drink] on it, with the Gatorade logo."

But after looking at the T-shirt a second time, Zach noticed that it didn't say "Gatorade" at all, but "GetLaid" written in the exact same style.

"I guess it was supposed to be one of those cool ironic shirts that kids these days wear. I tried to wrap  up in less than 20 minutes out of courtesy. Needless to say we didn't hire him."

Still on the subject of wardrobe malfunctions, Andrew Jones, chief recruiter at Source One Management Services, share a paid of interview-related tales with us.

"Recently, I was trying to staff a position at a Fortune 500 insurance company," Andrew recalled. "In addition to identifying a candidate, I had worked alongside the organisation to refine their interviewing process and develop scorecards for assessing candidates. I walked in for an interview with a candidate who I believed was the perfect fit. I learned afterward that she had taken her shoes off at the start of the conversation."

And then there was this charming chap...

"Years ago, I had a candidate walk into an interview with his fly down. To make matters worse, he spent most of the conversation hitting on the hiring manager. Needless to say, he didn’t get the job — or a date."

The perks of the job

Next is a cautionary tale from Matthew Ross, co-owner and COO of The Slumber Yard, who warns all interviewees not to push their luck when closing a deal:

"I have been asked some very bizarre questions during interviews," Matthew told us, "however, none more bizarre than the question/request we received from a potential candidate a few months ago."

After bringing one candidate back in for a second interview, it was clear, Matthew said, that the candidate could sense that he was close to being offered the job.

Rather than securing it, however, he immediately took himself out of the running by asking for something that neither Matthew nor his business partner could have ever anticipated.  

"Just before bringing the interview to a close, the candidate asked whether my business partner and I would be providing him a company car.

"At first, we were taken aback by the question considering we operate a digital media company — there's no need for our employees to drive anywhere.

"He then proceeded to tell us that the other company he was interviewing with was going to provide him a Range Rover, almost as if he was trying to use this as some sort of bargaining chip."

In the end, Matthew decided to call the guy's bluff, adding that, since the job in question wasn't a particularly high-level position, to ask for a car worth more than £40K was nothing short of "mind-blowing."

"To me, that sort of oddball request shows that the candidate is egotistical and not a team player."

Don't be greedy, ladies and gents...

Do you take sugar?

We'll end our trip down Awkward Interview Lane with a tale that takes place in our very own offices, told by RotaCloud co-founder Joel Beverley.

"A few months back, we had a guy come in to interview for a role with a name I won't mention here," Joel began.

"The interview got off to an awkward start because the candidate — who had somehow gained access to the office without needing to be buzzed in — just wandered into our staff kitchen and began looking around without saying a word to anyone.

"Guessing that he must be here for the interview, I approached him and introduced myself. After confirming that he was indeed here for the interview, I asked him if he'd like a warm drink and invited him in our meeting room to sit down."

Things became even more awkward soon after, however.  

"Barely a minute later, I was introducing the other co-founders who'd just joined us. The guy just sort of nodded, then interrupted me mid-sentence to ask, 'So, is this tea going to make an appearance at some point?'"

"We all just sat, mouths agape, not quite knowing how to respond."

After assuring the candidate that his cup of tea would be with him soon, Joel began the interview. Deep down, however, he knew that this wasn't the person for the job.

"It might have just been interview nerves, but after this little outburst I felt that this guy just wasn't RotaCloud material..." Joel added.

The position has since been filled...

Have an interview tale you'd care to share with your fellow managers and business owners? We'd love to hear it! Leave us a comment below!