14 New York Women Share Their Worst Interview Mistakes

It’s been a while since I’ve been on a formal job interview, but I can still remember my most awful one with vivid, cringeworthy clarity. I was wearing the one pair of black "business" slacks my 21-year-old self owned (with the crease and everything), was sweating bullets through my button-down and cardigan, and made the mistake of saying my worst quality was my perfectionism. (Note: I am the least perfect person in the entire world, and mostly err towards chaotic procrastination.) But I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my gross interview missteps, and in a city where climbing up the job ladder is too competitive for comfort, nearly every New Yorker has at least one tale to tell. From criminally overdressing for the office environment to accidentally slipping a slur into a normal response, these 14 women share their (slightly humorous, definitely embarrassing) career mishaps. Remember: We've all been there.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“One of my first real job interviews was at a hip record company in Manhattan where everyone dressed in jeans, T-shirts, and other 'cool guy' attire. I showed up for my interview wearing Olivia Benson-style slacks, and I felt like a complete loser. Luckily, they worked in my favor, so I have ended up wearing them to basically every interview since.”
– Stephanie G.; got the job. “I was really unhappy at my old job, but it took about a year from the time I first started complaining about it until I actually started looking at my other options. I let a few people know I was looking, and I got an email from this woman on LinkedIn who seemed really interested in my resume. I went in for an interview about a week later, and because I was so eager to leave my shitty job (and had not done my research), I didn’t know what the standard pay was for the job I was applying to at their company; keep in mind, this company was about three times the size of the one I was leaving. So when she asked me what I was making, I told the truth, and only later found out that I should have been earning about $15,000 more a year than I currently am. Now I’m going to have to change jobs again if I want more money.”
– Clara L.; got the job. “Mine is a little complicated, but basically my father was a director of a theater in my old city and ran a lot of the plays. Growing up, I would be in many of the shows, and I think everyone came to look at me as Richard’s daughter instead of an actress or singer. When I graduated college two years after my father retired, he told me that there was an opening in an administrative position at the theater and he would get me an interview. Being that I wanted to work in the arts more than anything, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a salaried job working at least close to the field, if not in it. "Little did I know that I was walking into what was essentially a firing squad, and the three people I had to interview with hated me for 'stealing roles' from their children growing up. It was extremely awkward, and I knew right away I wasn’t getting the job, but I had to sit through the whole thing. Moral of the story: It’s good to get your foot in the door, but not too far.”
– Hope C.; did not get the job.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“Out of nervousness, I told my future boss that I knew how to code; I even mentioned the languages I could code in 'semi-fluently,' a.k.a. the only two coding languages I knew off the top of my head. I honestly didn’t think it would ever come up again, given the job title, and assumed that if I needed to figure things out as I went along I would be able to. Needless to say, it became obvious pretty quickly that I was greatly exaggerating/lying about my skills, and it became awkward enough that I had to leave my job after just a few months. Never making that mistake again.”
– Jazmine K.; got the job. “Once, I accidentally scrambled up two words I was trying to say, and it came out sounding like 'bitch.' Like, I just said 'bitch' in the middle of speaking. And later, when they were asking me about how much I made, I got really nervous and said something along the lines of, 'It’s weird to talk about money.'”
– Lauren V.; did not get the job.

“Once, I was on an interview right after getting fired from a job unexpectedly, over something I thought was completely unfair. I was still very bitter at this interview, and instead of playing it cool and acting like I had quit (which is the smart thing to do), I shit-talked my old employer and boss, making it clear that I hated that place. Pro tip: Never shit-talk an old employer, because that means you’re bound to shit-talk your new one to someone else.”
– Eva J.; did not get the job. “They asked me what my worst quality was, and I said I was lazy. Don’t ask me what I was thinking.”
– Kelly D.; did not get the job.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“When I was 21, I had an interview for an extremely important political campaign that I had been preparing for weeks in advance. The night before the interview itself — I’m not exaggerating — I found out my boyfriend of two years was cheating on me with his ex-girlfriend. (She called me crying and confessed everything, because apparently she was having a pregnancy scare, which later turned out to be false, but I also suspect she just wanted to drive me away because she wanted him for herself. Anyway!) "I went into my interview having not slept the entire night before and having a puffy, red, blotched face completely devoid of makeup and greasy hair sticking to the top of my head. I can’t remember exactly what I was wearing, but I remember noticing on the subway ride home that I had a huge toothpaste spot on the right boob area of my sweater. I got about three questions and answers in until the (female) interviewer asked me if I was alright. I got about three words out of my mouth before bursting into tears and having to excuse myself.”
– Natalie M.; did not get the job. “My very, very first interview out of college was an absolute nightmare. I had no idea how to behave appropriately during an interview, so my attempts to appear as charming and inviting clearly came off as flirtatious. I didn’t get the job, but two days later, the guy who interviewed me emailed me from his personal account asking if I wanted to get drinks. Ew.”
– Carley C.; did not get the job.

“When I was unemployed for about seven months last year, I got really desperate and ended up going on any and all interviews I could get. I found a job listing on Craigslist (yes, sketchy) that offered a good hourly rate and had an immediate start date. It was advertised as being for an 'emerging art and fashion website' and would require someone with extensive experience in the industry. I went to the interview prepared to rattle off everything I’d learned from reading the Wikipedia articles on designers the night before, and realized about ten minutes in that they were looking for someone who would be okay with posing nude, if not sleeping with the owner of the 'photography studio.' It was the shadiest thing I’d ever seen: a converted downtown loft that had been turned into a creepy, rich guy’s personal nude-photography studio. He was looking for someone to help him create his website, and there were half-naked women walking around during my interview. I said I needed to go to the bathroom, panicked, and left. I guess I should have researched it more, but desperate times call for desperate measures.”
– Julia O.; did not get the job.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“I have a lot of nervous tics that tend to come out in professional situations more than any other stressful environment, probably because they feel so proper and serious. But my worst reaction to stress is that I’ll produce a lot of saliva and either have to swallow a ton, or slightly drool without realizing it. So in my most recent interview, I spent the entire 10 minutes swallowing every three seconds; at one point, I even launched spittle at the hiring manager when I laughed at her joke. I assume I came off like Robert Durst in The Jinx.”
– Carla A.; did not get the job. “I had an interview that I was way too confident about, and I went in for a hug with the woman who was interviewing me at the end of it. Don’t ask me why. I was literally just so jazzed about my performance and certainty about getting the job that I reflexively went in to grab a woman I did not know at all.”
– Beth C.; did not get the job.

“This wasn’t something I [did] intentionally, but I got my period during an interview once, and it bled through my beige pencil skirt, leaving a little spot on my butt. Luckily, my interviewer was a woman, and she was really understanding about it. She suggested I tie my sweater around my waist and even told me I looked ‘chic.’ I still didn’t get the job, though!”
– Moira G.; did not get the job.

“It wasn’t one specific thing as much as the fact that I lied about pretty much every quality I had and didn’t have. I was really just guessing what the company wanted to hear, so I said I was a ‘people person’ with ‘excellent public-speaking skills’ and ‘experience in direct client relations.’ I am a total hermit who absolutely hates having to interact with people, so you can guess how much I liked actually having that job.”
– Cristina N.; got the job.