What’s your greatest fear? Spiders? Ghosts? Accidentally revealing something embarrassing in the background of a virtual interview?
The wide-spread shift to all things virtual this year presented an increase in opportunities for horrifying outcomes to virtual interviews, presentations, pitches, and meetings.
We asked recruiters, human resources, and hiring pros to share their real-life stories of virtual interactions gone wrong. If anything can comfort you during your next embarrassing video meeting, at least you’ll know you’re not alone:
1. Too good for my interview questions
I was virtually interviewing for a copywriter. The interview started on time as scheduled. First, I asked a couple of personal and out of the box questions. The interviewee answered it all with confidence. I complimented him and said those were just warm-up questions and the real ones are about to follow. Then I sense a little bit of annoyance in his face. I didn’t mind it and continued with the logical questions that I prepared: a series of 10 questions that get more difficult progressively. By the time I got to the eighth question, he suddenly stood up and yelled, “Enough! I don’t deserve this!” and hung up. The funny thing is, I was not fazed by his reaction. Instead, I was left laughing, seeing his SpongeBob boxer shorts when he stood up.
Israel Gaudette, Founder at LinkTracker.Pro
2. It happens to all of us, sometimes
I was in the process of screening dozens of applications when I stumbled on the resume of a very promising applicant. I decided to schedule a Zoom interview with him the next day. We started on time. After asking a couple of questions, I suddenly heard a bizarre sound. I didn’t mind it at first, but as we continued, I kept hearing it again and again. Out of curiosity, I asked the applicant, and he said it was him farting. It turns out that he just had a wild breakfast, which probably caused his stomach turmoil. Well, it happens sometimes, I say. As we continued, he interrupted me and said he needed to go to the toilet. He ended up going back and forth there three times during the interview. To my surprise, the interview turned out well, and I hired him!
Paul Lewis, CEO/Founder at Scrum Explainer
3. Always have a back-up plan
As a digital marketer, we had a lot of crazy experiences during our formative years. It was the first time we pitched to a client, and our presentation hinged on one of our partners. We were about to start when he suddenly went offline! Needless to say, we were all in shock and had no clue what to do next. Years have gone by, and every time we see each other, we remember that time when we blew our very first pitch. Things like this should be taken as a learning experience. Very costly, but still a great way to improve. In our case, we learned to never just have one copy of our presentation. That made us really look like newbies. You should always be prepared for anything. There should always be a backup plan, and everyone should be able to improvise on the spot.
Jeremy Harrison, Founder and Head Of Content Strategy at Hustle Life
4. The naked truth
Our marketing team was meeting on a video call to discuss performance goals for the week. Nothing out of the ordinary happened until a woman, very advanced in years, appeared above the shoulder of our marketing director wearing NOTHING but her underwear. The entire team went quiet. Our marketing director didn’t notice. The woman kept walking around, oblivious to her grandson and the fact that nine people were watching in disbelief. It got too uncomfortable, I had to say something, “Has your grandma decided to join our team?” He finally turned around, “Grandma, what are you doing!?”
The rest is a series of embarrassing apologies and an extremely red face, but everyone had a good laugh! Now during our meetings, we often joke about telling ‘the naked truth’ or how we can see things with “a naked eye.” We often ask if Grandma will be joining the meeting; she’s become a celebrity. This incident has brought our team closer and certainly makes everyone look forward to our meetings with a little more anticipation.
Kevin Vandijk, CEO and founder at Tree Online
5. Old McDonald had a screen share
My biggest fear of online presentations is sharing the wrong screen. I always open the presentation in a separate window so that people are not distracted by other tabs. However, this time I was in a hurry and didn’t pay attention to the screen I was sharing. A few minutes into my presentation, I noticed people smiling and realized that I displayed a tab with a karaoke version of Old McDonald had a farm. I was having a karaoke night with my family, and I accidentally left the song on. Everybody looked at it for at least three minutes. I was shocked at first, but people were quite amused, and we had a little laugh together before switching to the original presentation.
Stefan Chekanov, co-founder of Brosix
6. I can tell when you aren’t listening
I was interviewing an applicant through a video call, when I asked her about her previous employment history and why she left the company. Somewhere in the middle of the question, she just kept saying “uh-huh” and “mhmm” without actually answering me. Needless to say, she was having a bad connection and couldn’t understand what I was saying. Then she admitted, “I’m sorry, what was it?” It was definitely awkward, but little mishaps like this one just take the repetitiveness out of recruitment!
Joe Wilson, Senior Career Advisor at MintResume
7. Hang up before you celebrate
A friend of mine is an executive at a large international organization. She was up for Partner and had a series of virtual interviews over a few months. She had one last interview with the head of HR, among others, before being sent for final interviews in person. Her husband knew that this was the last virtual interview and wanted to celebrate all of her hard work. When he heard her say her “good-bye’s” from her home office, he took that as his cue that he could go in and surprise her with a champagne toast… naked!
Unfortunately, her video was still on, and the head of HR saw her husband dancing and waving two glasses of champagne behind her. The candidate heard the head of HR say, “Oh my!” with a deer in a headlight look and slammed her computer shut.
As a friend, she called me to ask how they should proceed. She was crying, concerned this would ruin her chance at Partner. I let her know, as an HR leader, I would not be alarmed seeing “love and celebrations.” However, I did recommend she reach out to acknowledge what occurred and apologize. She did, all went well, and she made Partner weeks later!
Rebecca Ahmed, Founder at Laugh Thru Life
8. Tell me why
About a month after the pandemic required us to work remotely, I had just finished my home office space and was excited to showcase it to my colleagues during our upcoming virtual meeting. I was on a bit early, making sure everything was right while listening (and singing) to some Backstreet Boys. Now I’m not really sure why I did, but it felt like a Backstreet Boys moment for me, so that’s what I listened to.
The meeting started, and I thought I could do with some motivational background music, so I didn’t turn off my playlist. Zoom was fairly new to me, so I wasn’t aware there was a setting that allows everyone in your video call to hear whatever it is you are playing, even with your headphones on. It was only when my boss asked (as calmly as one could) who among us was listening to the Backstreet Boys did I realize my mistake.
I think I saw myself pale in front of the camera before turning beet-red from embarrassment. I admitted to it, apologized for the situation, and we all had a bit of a laugh. I think it was a laugh we all needed to help divert our attention from the grim state of the world. I don’t think I mind that it was at my expense at all!
Daniel Carter, Founder at ZippyElectrics
9. Blinded by the light
I was invited to be a speaker at a virtual conference. My previous experience as a speaker was a huge success, and my email list exploded. This virtual presentation had the opposite results. I dressed up and made sure my makeup was perfect. I wanted to really look the part. The problem was no one could see me. I used the camera on my laptop in a room in my house where the lighting was behind me. Since the camera shot into the light, all you could see was a blinding light that obscured me.
I don’t understand why the moderator didn’t tell me the lighting was so poor I wasn’t visible. When I saw the replay, my information sounded knowledgeable, so the audio part was impressive, but the video was extremely poor. Needless to say, my email list did not explode from that experience. I learned never to do a virtual presentation in that room again.
Janice Wald, Blogger, and Coach at Mostly Blogging
10. Be a strong speaker, not squeaker
My most embarrassing story in a virtual presentation was the squeaky chair I sat on for over two hours. Although I wasn’t the one leading the presentation, I was one of the speakers or should I say… squeakers! Every time I moved, my chair squeaked, the box would light up, and people thought I let one rip. There was some laughter, but I didn’t think anything of it. It happened three or four times until people burst out laughing. Then, I had to explain myself and even move the chair about, so people wouldn’t think I was making it up. I now have a new chair.
Daniel Foley, Director of Daniel Foley SEO
11. Sometimes, the internet is inadequate
A few months ago when I was in a virtual interview, the interviewer talked about how most other applicants were inadequate. But for a full five minutes, because of some Internet issues, I thought he was saying, “Africans” instead of “applicants.” I became so upset during the interview that I almost spoke up until he uttered “applicants” again, and I realized he’d been saying that the whole time.
Lucas Robinson, CMO of Crediful
12. Testing testing, one, two, THREE
I was preparing an important pitch for one of our potential clients, and I included a short video that I wanted to show. The video had a very slow, gentle song, and I wanted to make sure people heard it well. What I didn’t know is that you have an option on Zoom to share your computer sound, which amplifies the sound for your attendees at least three times. I used this option and turned the volume to the maximum on my computer. Needless to say, everybody jumped out of their chairs momentarily, and one person even knocked a glass full of water. A few minutes later, they relaxed a bit, but I just couldn’t get the image out of my head and just how funny it was. However, it was an important lesson I learned about Zoom that day.
Malte Scholz, Co-Founder at Airfocus
13. Checked-out on the checkout
Our team was setting up for rapid growth, and we decided to move a number of candidates through from the one-way video interview screen to a live panel interview. It was going to be a marathon interview day for our team. We had a little bit of time between candidates, and a few team members stayed in the session without video. The candidate jumped in extra early and initially, we were impressed. But then as our team entered the meeting one at a time, we quickly became creeped out. Our team was almost entirely female and this male candidate was unaware we could see him checking out and through very animated facial expressions, approving and disapproving the interviewers one by one. Needless to say, he wasn’t offered the role. Let’s just say, we were checked-out.
Marikaye DeTemple, Owner and Managing Director at Ride the Sail Marketing
Check out 5 Spooky recruiting problems and how to solve them!