How to Fail an Interview


Although this article might seem somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it is based entirely on real-life situations arising over more than 25 years of working in IT recruitment.

A bit like ‘It’ll be all right on the night’, the advice is presented in discrete sections


How to Fail an Interview - Poor Interview Technique


Courtesy (or lack thereof)

There is nothing more-irritating than hanging around waiting for somebody to show-up so the quickest way to fail an interview is by arriving late and failing to apologise.

This is closely followed by showing disdain for the interviewer - For example, because they are an insignificant Recruitment Consultant or non-technical HR person rather than a highly-prized Visual Basic Programmer.

You could always try arguing with the interviewer over, for example, the answer to a technical question – Even if you win the argument, you are pretty-well guaranteed to lose the job.

Refusing to be interviewed

The key to a successful interview is thorough preparation and the ability to deliver a structured ‘sales presentation’.

However, for those who can’t be bothered with all of that, you can always use the good-old standby of telling the interviewer that “it’s all in the CV”.

If the interviewer has the audacity to ask you questions, useful responses include “that is not a relevant question” or “that was a long time ago”.

An excellent wheeze is taking a supporter to assist with the interview or even sending a mate in your place – This has happened to me several times and one of my clients even had the candidate’s mum sitting-in.

Mind you, I don't think that I will ever experience anything more bizarre than the time a male candidate turned-up, at the client's premises, clutching a young baby who proceeded to 'gurgle' throughout the interview.

Can’t answer technical questions?

No sweat - You simply say “the important thing is that I know where to look in the manual” or “it is over 3 months since I took the XYZ exam”.

Another approach is to ‘front’ it out with a statement along the lines of “I’ve got 10 years experience and really shouldn’t have to answer technical questions”.

You could always try talking technical jargon ‘at’ the interviewer – Most technical terms mean different things to different people and many won’t question the terminology for fear of showing their ignorance.

However, beware the unruly interviewers who are likely to ask “what does that mean?” 


The almost infallible sign of an imminent untruth or half-truth is when the candidate says “I’ll be honest with yer” and most experienced interviewers pay close attention to the “I’ll be honest with yer” count.

Honesty and sincerity are two of the most important personal qualities – If you can fake those, you’ve got it made.

Playing it cool

Most people appreciate that potential employers favour candidates who demonstrate ‘enthusiasm’ for the job so you can always reduce your chances of success by playing ‘hard to get’. 

For example, I usually ask candidates why they are looking to move and have lost count of the times they tell me that “I am not really looking for a new job”. – This is most irritating and always makes me think “why are you (expletive deleted) wasting my time then”.

Other variations on ‘playing it cool’ include stating that “it is not worth my while moving for X salary” or “I am considering a number of other possibilities”.

Pressuring the employer is quite a good strategy for failure – For example, insisting that you must know the result of the interview by Friday.

A time to negotiate

Assuming that the job will inevitably be yours is rather rude so you can increase your chances of rejection by negotiating the terms and conditions before an offer is actually made.

For example, you might pursue excessive discussion of the benefits package rather than the job itself or you might demand a minimum commitment (on contract) or you might care to specify creature comforts such as the availability of a shower – No kidding, a ‘running’ aficionado once demanded just that at one of my interviews.

Best of all is to share the various financial problems that the potential employer will need to assist you with in order to secure your services.

Salary Discussions

Employers don’t like being rejected any more than candidates and will be unlikely to make an offer unless they feel that it will be accepted.

Consequently, successful jobseekers are likely to be clear and decisive in stating what they require.

Those who prefer the ‘vague and furtive’ approach could well start by asking the employer to “make me an offer and I will give it my due consideration”.

The ‘playing it cool’ types might prefer the “I couldn’t possibly work for less than £x” approach.

If you really want to come over as weak and indecisive, you could try justifying your salary requirement in terms of your present package – For example, “my present salary is £x but you are 10 minutes further up the road, I have a review in the pipeline and you don’t provide BUPA”.

Interview expenses – The knock-out blow

If all else fails, you can virtually guarantee rejection by getting into an argument over interview expenses.

The golden rules are:

  1. Demand interview expenses which have not been arranged in advance.

  2. At the interview, whip out the bill and demand instant payment – In cash.

  3. Most employers will pay the equivalent of 2nd class rail fare but you can provoke an argument by claiming the 1st class fare and adding lunches, dinners, teas, taxis, travel insurance, parking, car repairs, etc, to the basic cost.

  4. While you are at it, why not arrange several interviews on the same day and claim expenses for each – Be sure to arrive late for some of the interviews so that the potential employers can guess what is going on.

See you down at the Job Centre.

Les King

Written for the PeopleMaps Personality Profiler March 2003 Newsletter

PeopleMaps Personality Profiler - UK-based company offering on-line personality tests - These are being increasingly used as part of the recruitment process so it is just as well to be prepared for them.

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