CareerBuilder’s annual look at the strangest interview mistakes shows how frequently job seekers say and do the wrong things during interviews. Some of these missteps could have been the result of nerves, and others are just so weird there’s no way to explain them.
Here are 13 outrageous and real interview mistakes that surveyed employers have experienced and how you should avoid them.
Strange interview mistake No. 1: Candidate said he had to quit a banking position because he was always tempted to steal.
Why it’s a mistake: No one wants to hire a potential thief.
What you should do: Say you wanted to explore other options or you needed a position that aligned with your career goals. Honesty is great, but an employer doesn’t want to hear that you’re possibly going to rob the company.
Strange interview mistake No. 2: Candidate denied that he had a cell phone with him even though it could be heard ringing in his briefcase.
Why it’s a mistake: A ringing phone is a simple mistake; a lie is a deal breaker.
What you should do: Say, “Excuse me” and quickly turn the ringer off. A sincere apology shows you’re sorry and lets you get back to the conversation at hand.
Strange interview mistake No. 3: Candidate emptied the employer’s candy dish into her pocket.
Why it’s a mistake: It’s just weird.
What you should do: Take a single piece of candy like a normal person. Pouring the entire bowl of candy into your purse makes it seem like you have no manners.
Strange interview mistake No. 4: Candidate said he didn’t like getting up early and didn’t like to read.
Why it’s a mistake: Separately, these statements sound like red flags warning the employer you’re not keen on working too hard. Together, these statements are worrisome.
What you should do: If early morning isn’t your preferred time to rise, you can admit that as long as you counter it by saying you have no trouble staying late. This works only if getting up early isn’t vital to the position for which you’re applying. Also, if you’re asked what books you’ve read recently, you should have at least one title to mention. If the questions continue down that path, explain that you spend most of your time outdoors or doing something else productive with your time.
Strange interview mistake No. 5: Candidate asked to be paid “under the table.”
Why it’s a mistake: Ethical employers frown on illegal activity.
What you should do: Don’t ask to be paid illegally.
Strange interview mistake No. 6: Candidate reached over and placed a hand on the interviewer’s knee.
Why it’s a mistake: Aside from the handshake, you shouldn’t touch the interviewer.
What you should do: Keep your hands folded on your lap, writing in your notebook or resting on the table. Basically, keep them anywhere that isn’t the interviewer’s body.
Strange interview mistake No. 7: Candidate commented that he would do whatever it takes to get the job done, legal or not.
Why it’s a mistake: Crossing the line from passionate to a legal liability is worrisome for a company.
What you should do: Stress your passion for the job and how eager you are to reach the company’s goals. Employers want to know you’ve got the strong will to make things happen, not that you’re breaking the law on their behalf.
Strange interview mistake No. 8: Candidate hugged the president of the company.
Why it’s a mistake: Hugging is never appropriate in an interview.
What you should do: Unless there is some very unusual exception to the rule, interviewers and job seekers shouldn’t hug. You really shouldn’t hug the president of the company, unless you’ve been asked to do so. (And if you have been asked to hug the president, you probably should find out why.)
Strange interview mistake No. 9: Candidate called his wife to see what they were having for dinner.
Why it’s a mistake: Your focus should be on the interview. Phone calls are never appropriate mid-interview.
What you should do: If there’s an urgent matter, such as your child is sick, explain to the interviewer that you might need to step out of the room if an emergency call comes in or that rescheduling might work better. What’s for dinner is not an emergency.
Strange interview mistake No. 10: Candidate asked to postpone the start date so she could still get holiday gifts from vendors at her current job.
Why it’s a mistake: That’s not a good excuse.
What you should do: If this or any other frivolous reason is why you want to postpone the start date, make up a better reason. Simply saying, “I have a prior engagement I can’t get out of,” is better than saying “I want gifts.”
Strange interview mistake No. 11: Candidate called in sick to her current employer during the interview, faking an illness.
Why it’s a mistake: You’re showing your potential boss that you have no trouble lying.
What you should do: Interviewing is tricky, because you usually have to lie in order to get out of the office to get to the interview. Employers know that. However, they don’t need you to tell that lie in front of them. It’s a sign that you don’t know how to be discreet and professional.
Strange interview mistake No. 12: Candidate said he didn’t want the job if he had to work a lot.
Why it’s a mistake: No one will hire a lazy person.
What you should do: Don’t admit you don’t want to work a lot. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t say in an interview, it’s that you’re looking for a job where hard work isn’t a requirement.
Strange interview mistake No. 13: Candidate wouldn’t answer a question, because he thought they would steal his idea and not hire him.
Why it’s a mistake: This answer makes you sound greedy and paranoid.
What you should do: You definitely don’t want to hand over all of your genius ideas and secrets, because a crooked company could steal them. However, you should be prepared to give a sample of your ideas, because sitting in silence or refusing to answer the question doesn’t help the interviewer evaluate you