Job Interview Horror Stories

It came from behind the interviewer's desk.

Oct. 29, 2009 — -- Thanks to ever-shrinking budgets, exponentially expanding workloads and a dizzying assortment of seasonal flu strains, the office is a scary place to be these days.

But job seekers making the interview rounds have their own horrors -- and I don't mean hoping they land an offer before their unemployment checks run out.

Although most HR folks and hiring managers know how to conduct themselves in a professional manner, you don't have to dig too deep to unearth those eerie tales of interviewers behaving badly.

Some hiring managers yell, beat their chests and berate their candidates for no apparent reason. Others show up stumbling drunk or otherwise in need of 30 days at The Betty Ford Clinic. Still others confuse the office with their private powder room and do things they probably wouldn't even do in front of their spouse.

Herewith are some of the creepiest interviewer phenomena candidates recently shared with me:

Manager of a Thousand Faces

A number of readers e-mailed me spooky tales of hiring managers who seemed perfectly polished during the initial interview or phone screen only to later morph into a seething, fire-breathing demon without warning.

Debra Yergen from Yakima, Wash., can attest to that.

After three interviews for a technical writing position with a small manufacturing firm, Yergen received a job offer, she said. Because she'd have to relocate across the state, she asked for a few days to mull it over.

In the interim, Yergen said, the hiring manager, who'd been nothing but charming during the string of interviews, left her an unsettling phone message, "yelling and ranting at me about the fact that I needed to call him and accept the job immediately."

"About an hour later," Yergen continued, "he called and left me another voice mail literally begging me to take the job, like a kid would beg his parents for keys to the family car. All this inappropriate emotion was a huge red flag to me, considering that I hadn't even accepted the position, let alone made a mistake in it."

Not surprisingly, Yergen turned down the job.

Invasion of the Job Snatchers

Another alarming species of hiring manager is those who have no intention of filling the position advertised, not with anyone HR sends them, anyway.

Paul Riddell, a Web designer from Dallas, said he had one of those close encounters.

Freshly laid off, he scored an interview with the head of HR at a midsize software design firm and aced it.

"She admitted that if it were just up to her, she'd hire me right then and there," Riddell said.

But when Riddell met the manager who would be directly supervising the position, things didn't go quite as smoothly. Upon entering the room, Riddell said, the manager told him she had no intention of hiring him for the job and that there was nothing he could say to change her mind.

"She said that she was keeping the position empty until her son graduated from high school in three weeks, so she could hire him," Riddell said. Then, he added, "She sighed and complained about how HR had foisted this interview upon her."

Needless to say, Riddell didn't get the job.

Attack of the Killer Toenails

Some interviewers have manners rivaling those of Jack Nicholson's character in "The Shining" (in case you haven't seen the horror classic, that's not a good thing).

In an exit interview at the end of a summer internship, Annabel, a communications professional from the Midwest who didn't want her real name used, said she witnessed a fright show she's not likely to forget.

Annabel said she showed up to the meeting ready to ask for a letter of recommendation and discuss future employment opportunities at the PR firm. Her superior, on the other hand, seemed to think he was at a pedicure appointment.

"During the meeting, he removed his socks and cleaned and clipped his toenails with his feet up on his desk," Annabel said. "I thought I was going to pass out. He even said, 'Sorry about this, but I have these blasted corns.'"

On the up side, Annabel said, "He did give me a fantastic letter of recommendation."

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hiccup

There are those interviewers who think they're living in a "Mad Men" episode or a scene from "Scarface."

In her former life in the women's apparel industry, Nancy Fox said she interviewed with the president of a midsize company who arrived "totally smashed."

After weaving his way to his chair, "he tells me about how terrific the person I would be replacing is," said Fox, who's now a business development consultant in New York. "His eyes are closing and he's slurring his words. And as he's telling me this, he leans back in his chair and falls over backwards. It took all I had to not run screaming out of the room."

After the interview, Fox said, the exec's assistant explained that the product manager Fox would be replacing had been with the company a decade and that Fox's interviewer was distraught about her resignation and had "unwisely gotten drunk at their farewell lunch," but, "was really a good guy."

Fox's industry contacts also vouched for the guy, and she wound up accepting the position.

Margrit, a Los Angeles fashion designer who didn't want her real name used, wasn't as forgiving when an interviewer she agreed to meet at a Starbucks arrived under the influence.

"He was late and kind of stressed out," said Margrit, who'd already checked with her industry contacts to ensure the guy was on the up and up. "It was apparent from the moment he sat down that he was definitely wasted or jonesing for something. He was shaking."

After 10 minutes of "fairly normal conversation" with the guy, things turned weird, she said.

"He gets a real serious look in his eye and asks me, 'Are you a Christian? Because my whole company is born again, and we have to have someone who is Christian. We still party, but we're Christians,'" Margrit said.

"He then went on to talk about a million other things that didn't even string together into cohesive statements," Margrit added. "And then he left me sitting there so that he could go to his car and get a cigarette."

When the guy returned, "still shaking," Margrit said, he offered her the job.

Between "The shakiness, the stopping mid-interview to grab a cigarette, the sentences that were all over the place," Margrit said, "it just seemed way too risky to take a chance with this guy -- as much as I want a job."

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books -- "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog,