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Avoiding Embarrassing Job Interview Mistakes

Updated on February 13, 2019
Carola Finch profile image

Carola is an entrepreneur and freelance writer. She has worked in the business world as administrative support for many years.


In my many years of doing administrative office work, I have seen and heard of many applicants making silly mistakes before and during job interviews.

When we apply for a job, we want to put our best foot forward. We put on our best clothes and feel ready to take the plunge. We may, however, be doing things that sabotage our efforts. Recruiters may also make some mistakes that sabotage the interview.

A survey of managers by Office Team, a staffing company, reveals that some of us make embarrassing and sometimes funny mistakes that could cost us the chance to get the job. Office Team asked managers to share some of the more common job applicant boo-boos that they have encountered during job interviews.

Applicants: Making a Bad First Impression

An interview is such a short time to make an impression on recruiters, so we have to make it count.

The first step is to research the company and become familiar with what they do. Recruiters will be impressed if we can demonstrate our interest in and knowledge of the job. Experts recommend asking friends to set up a mock interview. Answers to common questions can also be practiced beforehand. The more prepared we can be, the more confident we will feel in the interview and less likely to open our mouths to change feet.

First impression mistakes

  • Calling the interviewer by the wrong name
  • forgeting what job they are applying for
  • Having a distracting piece of food in their mouths
  • Being so nervous they are close to fainting
  • Bringing a pet dog
  • Doing a song and dance literally in order to get the job

Applicants: Arriving Late

We should get directions in advance and double check the location with a GPS, a map on their website, or a mapping website. It may be helpful to drive by the location a few days beforehand to determine how much time it takes to drive there. We should arrive five minutes or more before the interview, but being too early could put recruiters in an awkward position.

Recruiters are busy people and being too early puts them on the spot. If we are nervous, we should come early and wait somewhere away from the company so we have time to calm down and focus.

Wardrobe malfunctions

  • Showing up in sweatpants
  • Wearing mismatched shoes
  • Not realizing that a zipper is down

We live in a casual world where blue jeans and sweatpants are the norm. The business world, however, still expects people to dress up – especially for interviews.

When we research a company, their website and the job description should give some hints as to how formal the business environment and culture are. Before we leave the house, we should do a mirror check to check that we are dressed appropriately and our hair is in check. Good hygiene and brushed teeth without distracting food items are a must.

Applicants: Not Watching What we Say

When we are nervous and excited, we may blurt out the wrong thing. We need to take a deep breath and think before we answer questions. Our answers should be short and to the point. Honesty is the best policy during an interview. We need to resist the temptation to complain about past bosses and coworkers. Bad-mouthing our past workplace makes us look bad.

Saying the wrong thing

  • Swearing during the course of the interview
  • Claiming to be late because he got lost, but the receptionist spotted him in the coffee shop earlier
  • Not knowing the actual position he is supposedly applying for
  • Getting caught lying during the job interview

We know we should not use profanity during the interview, but we should also watch the quality of our language. Some expressions may not technically be classified as swearing, but may be considered vulgar or offensive. Bathroom words do not belong in the board room.

Recruiters value honesty. They want people on their staff who can speak the truth and admit when they are wrong. Lying may get us ahead for a while, but we will be found out eventually.

Applicants: Having a Negative Body Language

  • Falling asleep
  • Checking a cell phone and texting
  • Chewing gum during the interview
  • Saying that he "never lets people see him sweat" while sweating profusely

We need to watch our body language as well for anything that could convey a wrong impression, such as being bored or not interested. We should be well-rested so that we can be focused on the interview and be self-aware of our speech and body language. Cell phones should be silenced and remain in pockets or purses during the interview.

Common body language mistakes - survey

Failed to make eye contact
Did not smile
played with something on the table
fidgeted too much in their seats
crossing their arms across their chests
Displayed poor posture
played with their hair or touched their faces
had a weak handshake
used too many hand gestures
had too strong a handshake

Recruiters: Management Errors

Recruiters should carefully consider where they will conduct their interview. A cluttered, dirty, or disorganized office will dampen the enthusiasm of job candidates. Recruiters should be familiar and comfortable with their surroundings.

Management mistakes

  • Spilling a hot drink on a candidate
  • The interviewer walks into a closet instead of the conference room
  • The hiring manager was reading the wrong resume

If recruiters are running late, they should let their candidates know. The job candidates' resumes should be reviewed ahead of time and relevant skills should be highlighted so that recruiters can easily reference pertinent sections. The resume should also be used to create relevant questions.

These kinds of mistakes could frustrate or confuse us job applicants. We need to extend some mercy to recruiters and cut them some slack. They are probably overwhelmed with work and under a lot of pressure to find the right candidates. We need to do our best to respond appropriately to the recruiters, even when we feel we have been thrown for a loop.

When Mistakes Happen

"Interviews are nerve-racking, but proper preparation by job seekers and hiring managers can help things run more smoothly," says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam. "Although interview blunders may be embarrassing, candidates who can recover quickly might actually turn an awkward moment into a time to shine."

When mistakes happen, how we react as job applicants can reveal our character. For example, a recruiter brings us into a cluttered office and apologizes for the mess, saying that their work is really behind because they need more staff. If we can smile, be patient, and respond with understanding, we could win big brownie points with the recruiter.


When we make mistakes during the interview, we should acknowledge them and apologize, if needed. Sometimes, having a sense of humor about them can break tension that our mistakes have caused. Humor should only be used, though, in appropriate situations because humor could be misinterpreted as dismissing or not taking the situation seriously.

If we make a mistake that costs us a potential job opportunity, we should recognize where we went wrong and try to avoid that path in the future.

Mistakes will happen, so we should not beat ourselves up about them. It is up to us to learn from our errors and move on. A great job could be waiting just around the corner.

© 2015 Carola Finch


Submit a Comment
  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    5 years ago from USA

    This is a good list. Definitely silence the cell phone!

  • Carola Finch profile imageAUTHOR

    Carola Finch 

    5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Thanks for the suggestion, but the focus of the article was on job interview mistakes and not the interview itself. It is a good idea for another hub though.

  • lambservant profile image

    Lori Colbo 

    5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

    This is good. As a suggestion, perhaps you could make a list of common questions asked by the interviewer that might make the interviewee uncomfortable or clueless, and then give some options for answers. One that took me by surprise years ago, and I have found is now a standard question, is What are your weaknesses? We don't want to tell them our weaknesses because we may not get the job. Any ideas how to handle that question without being dishonest?

    Great job here.


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