The most ridiculous job interview blunders

July 20, 2011: 10:27 AM ET

Don't offer to arm-wrestle your job interviewer. Or handcuff yourself to his desk, or answer a question with a knock-knock joke -- all of which, hiring managers say, actual applicants have done.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Okay, so maybe your last job interview wasn't perfect. You might have felt you hesitated too long when asked about your greatest weakness or forgotten to mention an important accomplishment with special relevance to the job opening at hand.

Well, cheer up. According to surveys conducted by staffing firm Robert Half International, you could have done worse. A lot worse.

Asked to recall the weirdest, most unforgettable job interview blunders they've seen, human resources executives and hiring managers came up with some doozies, including these:

  • "The candidate bounced up and down on my carpet and told me I must be highly thought of by the company because I was given such thick carpeting."
  • "One applicant took a brush out of my purse, brushed his hair with it, and left."
  • "A job seeker told me that, if I didn't hire her, she would have her grandmother put a curse on me."
  • "One candidate [at our company] challenged the interviewer to arm-wrestle."
  • "After a difficult question, the candidate asked if he could leave the room for a moment to meditate."
  • "One applicant sent his sister to interview in his place."
  • "When asked by the hiring manager if he had any questions, the candidate replied by telling a knock-knock joke."
  • "An applicant sang all of her answers to interview questions."
  • "One candidate handcuffed himself to the desk during the interview."
  • "I interviewed someone who had a jawbreaker in her mouth during the entire conversation."

Of course, candor is always best, but there's such a thing as volunteering too much information, as these interviewees proved:

  • "An individual applied for a customer service job and, when asked what he might not like about the work, he replied, 'Dealing with people.'"
  • "One individual said we had nice benefits, which was good because he was going to have to take a lot of leave over the next year."
  • "One prospect gave me a list of all the reasons why he shouldn't be hired."
  • "The candidate said she would really prefer a job offer from our main competitor."
  • "After being complimented on his choice of college and the high GPA he earned there, the candidate replied, 'I'm glad that got your attention. I didn't really go there.'"
  • "When asked by the hiring manager why she was leaving her current job, the applicant said, 'My boss is a jerk. All managers are jerks.'"

That last one raises an important point, says Brett Good, a senior district president for Robert Half who frequently coaches job seekers on how to shine in interviews: "Even a mildly sarcastic quip about a current or former employer can raise a red flag so, when in doubt, take the high road."

And of course, leave your handcuffs at home.

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About This Author
Anne Fisher
Anne Fisher
Contributor, Fortune

Anne Fisher has been writing "Ask Annie," a column on careers, for Fortune since 1996, helping readers navigate booms, recessions, changing industries, and changing ideas about what's appropriate in the workplace (and beyond). Anne is the author of two books, Wall Street Women (Knopf, 1990) and If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map? (William Morrow, 2001).

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