Embarrassing Things I’ve Done When Looking for Work 

You’re looking for a new job. It can be either your dream job, or your just-for-now job, but the process is still the same. You update your resume. You send emails. You have phone interviews where you hope the interviewer can’t tell by the sound of your voice that you’re not wearing pants. I’ve been there and have made mistakes so that you don’t have to.

Informational Interviews

A friend put me in touch with his friend who was in the industry I was hoping to break into. After some emailing, he graciously agreed to meet up for a drink, so I could pick his brain. I wrote down a list of questions I wanted to ask, and was excited to hear the advice he would give me. I was trying to keep my expectations in check when I arrive at the bar and realized there was a slight problem.

Now it may have been the lighting of the bar, or the tweediness of his jacket, but he’s definitely within the range of dudes I would be attracted to. Oh no. I keep asking him questions, but while he’s answering all I’m thinking is “I wonder what my listening face looks like right now? Stop! Listen to what he’s saying. Although what if this is our meet-cute, but then our dynamic is such that he tries to give me advice all the time? I think I would hate that. Or I might be into it in a Jack Donaghy sort of way? Ok, must focus. I wonder what my focused face is looking like right now?”

It was time to order a second drink. He ordered whiskey (they always do). It was my turn. I remember I was aiming to sound cool and laid back (with my mind on my money, and my money on my mind) when I heard myself say, “I’ll just have a gin and juice please.”

That didn’t work.

“Really? I’ve never even made that. What kind of juice do you want in that?” the bartender eyed me skeptically.

“I guess cranberry juice? Cranberry juice seems straight out of Compton, right?”

“I don’t know. Ok, cranberry juice and gin it is.”

“Great, thanks! Actually can I just sub out the gin for vodka then?”

Rookie mistake. Never try to be cool. Remember, you are your own worst enemy. Also, no ambiguity is best in these situations. Therefore I’d try to meet for these sort of things in neutral locations where no one has ever felt any sexual tension, i.e. coffee or a lunch where you both are eating difficult things like salads or burritos.

First Interview

These are usually a breeze. We’re going through my resume line by line, I’m explaining away my bachelor of fine arts as a youthful dalliance, much like experimenting with one’s sexuality or veganism, when what I really want to do is “whatever that company happens to do.” Everything’s going well, the 55-year-old recruiter is asking my availability for a second interview, when I see a photo on his desk of three women in their twenties. This is my in!

“Aw, you have three daughters? I’m the middle of three girls. They look really close.”

He looks at me the way I look at people when they tell me they don’t like dogs.

“No. I have two daughters. The one in the middle is my wife.” OH NOOOOO. We have a Soon-Yi situation on our hands. Must save this.

“Well, you know, your wife looks very youthful, so…congrats.”

Lesson: Don’t comment on people’s framed photos on their desk. Unless they’re in a photo with someone so high-profile, it would be weird if you didn’t comment on it. Like a former President. Or Andy Cohen.

Stock Answers

As everyone knows, it’s important to have certain stock answers at the ready, since they come up so often.

“What would you say your biggest weakness is?” should always be answered with “Excel.” No one actually expects anyone to know all the ins and outs of Excel, and I anticipate it will be phased out any day now. (Note: This is actually horrible advice. Excel will be used for the rest of Time, and will outlive us all. Also your subpar skills will make you beholden to the person in the office who is the best at it, Smug Excel Guy).

“What do you like to do for fun?” This seems like a no-brainer. Just display a smattering of varied interests that makes it seem like you are a well-rounded person, and unlikely to spend all of your free time on only one intense hobby. (Shout out to my friend who is obsessed with talking about how he brews his own beer.) Just quickly plan what you say in your head first.

How you should answer: “Going to the movies, seeing friends and family, and volunteering.”

How I answered once: “Going to the movies, comedy shows, reading books, and I like tapas bars.” 1) You know what sounds exactly like topless bars? Tapas bars. 2) Tapas bar? That’s right up there with “hip nightclub” as expressions I only use when I’m nervous or trying to explain my life to my grandparents.

“What are some of your favorite movies?” is the job interview equivalent of the “what kind of music do you like?” question in dating. There are no winners with this question, and make no mistake: You are being tested.

How you should answer:It’s a Wonderful Life.” Boring and safe. (And wonderful!)

How I answered once: “Oh wow. I guess the usual movies everyone likes… Let’s see, off the top of my head it would be Christmas Vacation, Annie Hall, umm City Slickers…and (at this point I realize I’ve completely lost the 65-year-old man interviewing me, and am trying to relate to him when I see golf clubs in the corner of his office)… and of course, one of my all-time favorites, The Legend of Bagger Vance?”

Spoiler alert: Naming period golf films that you’ve never seen will get you nowhere. I didn’t get the job. On the plus side, I did reignite my interest in City Slickers, which I would have forgotten about if it wasn’t for my stream-of-consciousness job interview.

Lessons learned: Be yourself, but try to be the most put-together version of yourself. If you do happen to say anything embarrassing, just write it all down and eventually put it on the internet and hope that no future employers see it.


Michelle Markowitz is a comedy writer and storyteller in New York.  She co-hosts the comedic storytelling shows “Failing Our Twenties” and “Hookups & Hang-Ups,” and can be found online (usually talking about her love of Chipotle), and receives links to animals doing cute things at her email address.


37 Comments / Post A Comment

cmcm (#267)

One time in an interview, and I don’t actually know what this was in response to, my answer to a question was, “Well, because I’m not an idiot…”

I did not get that job. But joke’s on them, because HONESTLY I’M NOT AN IDIOT, I SWEAR.

thatgirl (#1,965)

So, once I was asked “what is the nicest thing you’ve ever done for anyone,” and because I was sick as a dog but still went to the interview because of course I did, I stared blankly at the interviewer and then, after a few seconds, said “I didn’t get mad at my roommate when she got me sick this weekend.”

Needless to say, I did not get the job.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@thatgirl I’m guessing “not punching you in the face right now for asking such a useless interview question” would also not be an acceptable answer, although it seems to be the correct one.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@thatgirl I was on a third interview (phone, then staff, this was the person who would be my upper supervisor) and was also sick, and had just graduated college 4 days beforehand and moved back home 4 hours away, then came back 4 hours for this interview on short notice.

She asked me something along the lines of what my biggest weakness was, and I completely blanked. She was very nice about it as I hemmed and hawed.
Her: Well, what would your friends say?
Me, without hesitation: That I’m mean.
Her: *blank stare*
Me: Haha! Well, um, because I’m really honest. They actually like it about me, it’s just if you want an honest answer about something you know to go to me. If you don’t want to hear the truth, I’m not the person to ask. So they jokingly would say that I’m very mean.

Got the job.

ETA: The other final candidate cried during her third interview, so….

thatgirl (#1,965)

@WaityKatie I think I painted myself into a corner by feverishly (I realized later I was actually running a low-grade fever, I would have rescheduled had I known) talking about how much I like helping people?

Did I mention that this was a job in a healthcare related field?

Yeah, it was a mess.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@bgprincipessa Yes for mean girls and criers! The world needs both!

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

Oh the gin and juice got me laughing. I’m so sorry but that was great. I can’t believe that didn’t help you. That guy clearly had no sense of humor.

probs (#296)

@josefinastrummer seriously!

nonvolleyball (#305)

@josefinastrummer also, because no one else has addressed this…it’s orange juice, right?

(also-also, this was great.)

I was asked to list ALL the accomplishments I’ve had in my life. What I wanted to say was “listen, buddy, I’m 26 years old. The accomplishments that apply to this position are listed on my resume under ‘Accomplishments.'” Instead, I rambled on for at least 5 minutes, beginning at middle school and going into detail about a portfolio type thing my mom made me when graduating high school.

I still have no idea how I could have answered that question with a decent answer. Maybe I should call up the person who got the job to see what they said.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@langedangereux “I’m sure if you called my mom she could give you the laundry list.”

EM (#1,012)

@langedangereux I like when the people asking you these questions clearly got them from some Guide to Interviewing New Hires, and they don’t really understand what they are looking for either.

Trilby (#191)

Let me boil this down for you: Say as little as possible while looking as intelligent as possible. That is all you need to do. Granted it is harder than it sounds. But just do it, and you will get a job.

julebsorry (#1,572)

@Trilby This is great advice – I was about to say something similar. Not only say as little as possible, STICK TO YOUR TALKING POINTS. Especially with HR folks in initial interviews. Think of a few sentences that start with “Because of my experience with X (or “love of y” or “education in Z” I believe I’d be an excellent asset for your company and the best candidate for this position.” No matter how far afield they may try to drag you, stick to your handful of talking points! Don’t tell a long-winded anecdote about that time your dog got sick and you had to take him to the ER but it turned out to be just gas. Just stick to the talking points, even if they sound sort of repetitive. Drive the message home: “I AM THE BEST CANDIDATE”.

Also, if they ask “what is your biggest weakness” – tell a story about a time you turned a weakness into a strength. For instance, “I used to have some trouble getting organized. So, I took a course and focused intently on developing great organizational skills. Now, where I used to be disorganized, I now have great organizational skills.” Trust me – works every time.

For other questions, just be like a political candidate. Ever notice that, no matter what question they’re asked, they often respond with the answer to a question they’d LIKE to have been asked? It’s effective in job interviews, too. Use this strategy to stick to your talking points for all “screwball” questions.

vunder (#752)

@Trilby While it makes sense to err on the side of not saying the wildly wrong thing, I actually like to see something authentic from a candidate. If a candidate fails to express a genuine-sounding affection for the things he or she claims to know and like, I’m not going to hire that candidate for the job. I’m much less interested in highly polished people than I am in people with a sense of focus and engagement and a point of view.

Trilby (#191)

@vunder If you were interviewing me, you would be impressed by my intelligence because I would follow everything you say with keen interest and a friendly demenor. Add to that, I would say things, but not stupid things. I would not put my foot in my mouth. And you would hire me. I have been hired by many an experienced HR person.

julebsorry (#1,572)

@Trilby I agree – HR people SAY “Oh, we like to see personality!” but this has not been my experience when interviewing. People, it’s a trick!

I put on my most polished, professional, and enthusiastic version of myself. This self is not authentic (I am all these things, but way amped up for interviews) but HR people have NO WAY of knowing that (if they think they do, they’re wrong, b/c I’ve fooled ’em before, lol).

In fact, I often will mimic the speech and body language patterns of the interviewer (not in a gross way, but in a “they lean forward, you sort of lean forward. They lean back, you lean back” way. This is an old sales trick to gain trust). So, the interviewer thinks, “Wow, what a great gal!” when I’m really just working to project themselves back on themselves, lol.

I saw The Legend of Bagger Vance. It was pretty bad.

aetataureate (#1,310)

Everything about this scene in Girls explains why I can’t effing stand it. AHHH.

iffie (#1,911)

@aetataureate I know, right? I hate funny things, too! Why do I click on things on the internet that I hate? ARRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGH!

aetataureate (#1,310)

@iffie You’re right, jokes ABOUT women making date-rape jokes are totes cool! LOL! Thanks for the attitude adjustment.

Being Smug Excel Guy is not all it’s cracked up to be, let me tell you.

Especially in grad school when I spent hours helping my friends get the formulas right on their project and they got better marks than me. Still bitter!

EM (#1,012)

@stuffisthings I am smug Excel person, but that usually amounts to telling people, “No, just hit escape. Yup. There you go.” and showing them how to do a line break in a cell.

@Michelle Wait, how do you do a line break in a cell? I’m actually pretty Excel savvy (I once had to use Excel to plot out my vowel space), but the line break eludes me.

EM (#1,012)

@Sunny Schomaker@facebook If you are on a PC, it’s Alt+Enter. On a Mac it’s Command+Control+Enter.

r&rkd (#1,657)

It has been, at points, my greatest source of security that I cannot be laid off.

@josiahg Indeed — you should see some of the crazy clockwork contraptions I’ve cooked up. NOBODY BUT ME WOULD UNDERSTAND THEM.

Brunhilde (#78)

@stuffisthings I like to use the CHAR function instead of spaces and commas when concatenating cells. It really confuses the fuck out of people, apparantly, since I’ve gotten calls at home when I’m out sick and people just DON’T UNDERSTAND MY CRAZY FORMULAS!!! Dude. Just fucking take a deep breath.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@josiahg This! Build a template or two with a poorly documented macro and you are set so long as nobody else can understand your Excel crazy.

selenana (#673)

@stuffisthings @Michelle and all y’all:
You guys can have my job. I am using Excel right now and I have no idea what you are talking about.

sventurata (#27)

@stuffisthings Try being the friend everyone sends resumes to “because you’re so great at editing these.”

# of jobs this skill has landed me: none.

@stuffisthings I used to think I was pretty fancy with Excel, until I saw what our accountants were working on. There are layers upon layers, my friend.

noralo (#581)

This is really funny.
That’s all I have to say. I’ve only read a little bit; I’ll go back to read the rest now. Thanks for making Monday hilarious and fantastic.

“some of your favorite movies” Well if the interviewer wanted to find out how nerdy I really am, I guess that’s a good way to go.

josiepagne (#2,835)

when interviewing for my current publishing job, my future boss asked what i was reading. i knew this would be asked, but hadn’t really thought it through before the interview, so i truthfully answered, “undress me in the temple of heaven.” (a phenomenal book, by the way) it’s a travel memoir that’s not overtly sexual, but the second it was out of my mouth, i realized what it sounded like. he of course had never heard of it and then i had to hurriedly explain myself which was a rambly mess that included comments like “amazon picked it as a good book!”

sacados (#2,840)

Back when I was a nervous, inexperienced student looking for a publishing job, I had THE WORST informational interview ever.
I got connected with a woman who was an assistant at a company that handled international rights/marketing for books. She was fairly entry-level, so she set me up to talk to her boss as well.

The conversation went something like this.
Me: So, what part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Boss Lady: I don’t enjoy it at all.
Me: …..
Young Assistant: Really? You don’t?
Boss Lady: No.
Assistant (a bit desperately, trying to be helpful): OH, but you know there’s (A, B, C) — that’s great right?
Boss Lady: Not really.
Me: …

She also told me that the best advice she could give me was to go back to the US and look for a job (this was Japan). Because “Japan still has lots of gender discrimination, not like America. You might not like it. If you try and work here, you might end up hating Japan and then what would you do???”
Me: Um, I don’t really think that would happen but if it does, I guess… I’d leave?

To be fair, I don’t think she was trying to be mean. I think she just has one of those brusque, dry personality types that ironically I would probably quite enjoy in a boss, but which is absolute *murder* on your nerves in an interview.

MichaelaJoan (#3,943)

I once had shit on my shoe during an interview. Literally, a big schmear of dog shit on my shoe. Naturally I had no idea. It was conducted in one of those terrible cloth-sided cubicles in a cavernous windowless interior. The interview lady kept curling her upper lip and looking at me like I was revolting. I was trying to be polite, maybe even a little sorry for her and irritated, thinking “Why is she being such a bitch? Oh well, she can’t help looking like that when there’s a nasty smell in this room. I bet she hates working here.” Actually I don’t remember what I was thinking, because as soon as I left, I realized that atrocious smell was still around. I checked myself all over and discovered the offending shoe. It was pretty gnarly. Took fifteen minutes in a patch of grass to get it off me, and even then that shoe was never the same. I don’t remember ever wearing those shoes after that. Of course, no job for me. It makes me laugh today, like I was cast in some kind of instruction video on interview etiquette for dummies. But I compulsively check my feet before walking into a building where I will be interviewed.

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