Job interviews can be seriously scary. Even once you have a few under your belt, there are still plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong.
That’s why Business Insider asked readers to share stories about times they totally bombed a job interview: to show that no matter how badly you mess up, you aren’t alone.
Here are seven stories, and what you can do to avoid these gaffes in the future:
Some answers have been edited for clarity.
1. ‘I was completely unprepared’
“I had just received a dream job offer that week from another company. However, I couldn’t cancel on this other interview (my college’s career center required at least 48 hours notice). Going into it, I was completely unprepared. My biggest mistake involved repeatedly calling the company I was interviewing for by the name of their arch rival throughout the entire interview. It was definitely one of the most awkward experiences of my life.” — Anonymous
How to avoid it: No matter how much or little notice you have to prepare — or how much or little interest you have in the company — always do your homework and be ready to bring you A game. You never know when you may want to interview with this employer again in the future!
Read up on the company; understand what the role entails; prepare some impressive questions to ask; and do a mock interview with a friend or yourself in the mirror.
2. ‘I assumed … ‘
“Things got off to a bad start when I assumed the hiring manager was the secretary.” — Michael, New York, New York
How to avoid it: First, you know what they say about making assumptions … so just don’t assume anything about anyone during a job interview.
And second, even if you do think you’re talking with the secretary, you should treat them the same way you would a hiring manager anyway.
In fact, you should be kind and friendly to everyone you meet, including the building’s security guard, a driver (if they send one for you), or parking lot attendant. This way, if any of those people talk to the hiring manager, or turn out to be the interviewer themselves, you’ll have absolutely nothing to worry about.
3. ‘I completely blanked’
“In one interview, I was asked to name a song that described me. I completely blanked and blurted out what I’d just heard on the radio — ‘Teenage Wasteland.’ That probably didn’t give a great impression. Also, the song’s name is ‘Baba O’Riley.'” — Anonymous
How to avoid it: Again, it’s important to prepare. As a job candidate, you should look at websites like Glassdoor to learn more about the interview process and the questions you may be asked. Of course, there’s always a chance your interviewer will ask you something you didn’t anticipate and couldn’t possibly have prepared for — but if and when that happens, remember it’s ok to take a minute to pause, compose your thoughts, and articulate them in a smart way.
People, especially those in the hot seat, tend to feel uncomfortable with awkward silences, but it’s far less uncomfortable that saying something embarrassing or dumb.
4. ‘There was a large booger hanging out of my nostril’
“I got into my car, having just wrapped up a job interview. When I looked in my mirror to back out of my parking spot, I saw that there was a large booger hanging out of my nostril. I was very embarrassed and thought about going back in to say something. I chose to just laugh it off. I realised I wasn’t going to get the job. It is still funny 28 years later.” — Anonymous, Cincinnati, Ohio
How to avoid it: These things happen, but one way to avoid them (or at least reduce the chances of them happening) is to use the restroom before the job interview to check your appearance.
Do you have any food between your teeth? A stain on your shirt? A missed button?
Now is the time to discover and fix these things. If you realise during the interview, you’ll be distracted and thrown off. If you realise afterward, you’ll worry and overthink it. Neither of those are good.
5. ‘I froze up’
“I seriously messed up one job interview in my life. I was very nervous. At a certain point, I just stopped answering the questions. I froze up. It was awkward.” — Anonymous
How to avoid it: Luckily, there are a few exercises anyone can practice in the moments before a job interview (like meditating or “power posing“) — or during the meeting (like reframing your nervousness as excitement) — to help calm your nerves. Sure, they’re not all guaranteed to work … but it’s better to try them than do nothing at all.
6. ‘I think my excitement spoiled everything’
“I was so close to being selected for one position. I was on a short list of candidates the hiring panel was looking at. I was so happy. In the end, I think my excitement spoiled everything. I started expressing too much. During the last interview, when they asked me when I was available to start, I picked a pretty random date, even though I was available to start working right away. The lesson is, don’t make unnecessary demands.” — Partho Gope, India
How to avoid it: It’s easy to let emotions take over during or right after the job interview — but play it cool. Once you get home you can cry or scream or cheer. But keep yourself composed and remain professional while you’re still in the interview. That’s not to say you shouldn’t smile and passionately express your interest. Of course you should! But just be careful that you don’t cross the line.
7. ‘I gave some unfocused answer’
“The interviewer asked me to say what bores me and how I deal with boredom. I froze up — I couldn’t say a word. The thing is, I don’t know how to deal with boredom. I struggle with that, so I didn’t know how to answer the question. Eventually, I gave some unfocused answer, but the damage was done.” — Sumiati Mimi Hamami, Indonesia
How to avoid it: If you ever feel like giving an honest answer to a question will hurt your chances, there are a few things you should (and shouldn’t) do.
First, don’t lie. Lying is never the right answer in a job interview. Also, don’t dodge the question completely. The hiring manager will assume you’re trying to hide something.
Instead, acknowledge the question but then focus your response on something similar, but slightly different. For instance, in this case, you could try something like: “Well, luckily I rarely find myself bored at work — but I can tell you how I deal with especially busy days. I’ve mastered the art of time management and prioritising tasks by … .”
As long as it’s true, this is a good answer because you don’t have to explain how you (poorly) deal with the rare instances of boredom you experience at work … but you’re still able to highlight a strength.
If they press and ask again, you should be honest but focus on the things you’ve been doing to improve how to you deal with being bored at work.
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