the haunting, the scone, and other stories to cringe over — Ask a Manager

It’s Mortification Week at Ask a Manager and all week long we’ve been revisiting ways we’ve mortified ourselves at work. Here’s the final installment — 14 more mortifying stories people have shared here over the years.

1. The haunting

Many years ago, I was 18, working for Disney on a college program as a Custodial Hostess at Epcot. I was assigned a rare overnight shift to deep clean the corporate lounge in the defunct Wonders of Life Pavilion for a random buy-out. I was by myself, in an area that had been closed for years, in the middle of the night, with only some shadowy maintenance lights on because I didn’t have access to turn on the actual lights, doing deep cleaning in a room inexplicably decorated with a terrifying circus/clown motif.

On top of all of that, in my excitement to get to access a long-closed area of the park, I researched the pavilion and learned that the closed ride Body Wars was rumored to be haunted. I didn’t normally believe in ghosts, but with the overall spooky atmosphere, that knowledge didn’t help and I was honestly super scared and uncomfortable. So, to make myself feel better, I was belting uplifting Disney songs at the top of my lungs while vacuuming. I turned around, saw a literal ghost, and screamed bloody murder while falling to the ground clutching the vacuum. As it turns out, it wasn’t a ghost, it was my manager coming to check on me, and I hadn’t heard her enter between the hum of the vacuum and my scream-singing. She died laughing, I died of embarrassment, but besides that, I survived my spooky night at the Wonders of Life haha

2. The mix-up

I had a mix up when answering the phone. Mixed up “Can I help you?” and “Could you hold?” into “Can I hold you?”

3. The social

I work at a college, and at a certain point in the admissions process we need to get students’ Social Security numbers. We use it to match things like transcripts and FAFSA information, to ensure we’re looking at the documents for the correct John Smith. Some years ago, I had a young man call me at the instruction of his coach to provide his identifying information, and I asked him for his social, and he gave me his Instagram handle.

4. The typo

I was hurriedly sending an email on my phone to a high up person of a major funding body for the organisation I worked with to let her know I was running late for a meeting and would be there soon. The person’s name was Cynthia. I started writing “Hi Cynthia,” realized after the first four letters I had made a typo and pressed the u instead of the y. “Oh dear,” I thought to myself, “How unfortunate,” and then for reasons not even my terrible brain or traitorous fingers understand, I pressed send instead of delete.

5. The scone

I was a fairly new manager and had hired my first direct report. She was a wonderful, capable employee who was working fully remotely. The interviews and all our interactions had always been over video calls. After a few months, we flew her in for an on site meeting we were having. Now, I don’t generally use an alarm to get up, and its normally never a problem. Except for that morning: somehow I slept in until 15 minutes before the meeting was due to start. I scrambled and was able to get out the door quickly and called into the room on my way in.

The meeting kicked off with introductions, and I heard that another team member say she had baked scones for everyone and would pass a container around. I arrived about 15 minutes late, sweating and out of breath from running the last few blocks to the office. As I entered the room I noticed there was a single free seat, next to my direct report. I sat down and noticed there was a scone sitting on a napkin off to my right. I assumed someone had left one for me when the tray was passed around. Having not had a chance to have breakfast, I picked it up and devoured it immediately.

About an hour later it occurred to me that it might not have been my scone. At the break, I asked her whether it was hers and she said it was not, until one of my other colleagues spoke up and said, “That was definitely her scone.” I was mortified. I can only imagine what it must have been like for her – you are meeting your boss in person for the first time – he arrives late, sweating and out of breath, sits down next to you and then immediately snatches up and consumes your breakfast. It’s become a bit of a joke now, but it was quite embarrassing at the time!

6. The misspeaking

I once accidentally said that “it was so great to hear” about the news of a former colleague’s death, when that was NOT at all what I meant! I actually liked this colleague!

In my head it was supposed to be more like “it was great of you to notify everyone,” because the news had gone out via a professional association in the field and I was talking to the head of that association. As soon as I said it I realized how awful it sounded, but in classic mortification fashion we were already getting off the elevator and the was no time to correct myself.

To this day I always wonder if the association head thinks I had it in for the former colleague

7. The auto-correct

I had a coworker named Charles who went by Ches, and his last name was an Italian name beginning with Vi… more than once I didn’t realize that his name had been auto-corrected to “Cheese Victim.”

8. The mystery squid

I work in higher ed student administration and the university I work for uses google integration (so everything uses gmail, etc.) This also happened to be the university I attended, so I had been in the habit of checking my email and such at home because a lot of my personal stuff was still connected up to it and hadn’t been moved to a different personal account.

Anyway, one evening I was watching an artist stream something on YouTube and I decided I wanted to leave a nice comment in the chat. YouTube did the little popup thing prompting me to make an account and for obvious reasons, I was not gonna put my real name in there so I posted as “Mystery Squid” and went about my day.

It was not until the next day that I realize I had been logged into my university email in another tab and (since google had recently acquired youtube) this had synced this new account/name with my university/work account … I learned this because my supervisor came over and said, “What is your email again? I’m trying to send you something but the only person coming up is this Mysterious Squid person.”

Cue the horrendous realization that I was now Mystery Squid at work. I went back to YouTube and to my gmail profile to see if I could save myself and change it back, but because it was a university account and not a google one, all the name change locations were disabled. I was trapped.

I ended up spending an hour on the phone with IT, quietly wishing I could crawl into a hole and sink into the abyss, letting them walk me through all of the “was your account compromised or hacked” procedures because I was too embarrassed to tell them that I did this to myself.

The real kicker? They told me it would take 48 hours for the change to show up again. I had to carry on for the next two days emailing many dozens of students as a mysterious squid. Shout out to the web team coworker who, when I apologized for my sorry state, humored me and said he didn’t notice because it sounded like the google docs anonymous animal names.

9. The auto-correct, part 2

I was once replying to a text from a fairly new coworker and I meant to type “I won’t rat you out” and it auto-corrected to “I won’t eat you out.” I was DYING of embarrassment but thank god she found it hilarious and she’s one of my best friends now, lol.

10. The wrong timing

My mother, who is delightful but has no filter, moved in with me during the pandemic. My desk was right outside of her bedroom door. One day, I was starting a zoom call with my new team and as I said to them, “Good morning, how are you today?” she walked out of her room and thought I was talking to her. She loudly replied, “You know, last night I pooped in my panties!” I could not hit the mute button fast enough and I have no idea what, if anything, the rest of the team heard.

11. The accident

I’m a trainer. A few years ago, I was facilitating a session in a smaller-than-was-really-needed training room, and in walking from one area of the room to the other I manged to trip over the leg of a flipchart stand, sending the flipchart and me flying. The flipchart knocked into one of the delegates, who leaned over to try and avoid it and in doing so knocked an entire two-liter glass jug of water all over the table, ruining lots of notebooks, narrowly missing quite a lot of electrical devices, and making several people look like they’d Had An Accident, and before anyone could catch it the jug fell the floor and shattered into thousands of pieces.

We sure didn’t need an icebreaker, anyway…

12. The frustration

During my first month as a paralegal, I was learning on the job and flying by the seat of my pants. I signed up for an online seminar on using a particular program. Tried to log in and couldn’t, there was some issue. I was swearing under my breath and trying all the computer tricks I knew, and in the heat of all my frustration, the moderator said kindly, “Your speaker is at least working, because we can hear you. Would you like to sign up for next week’s seminar instead?”

13. The lack of mute

A colleague of mine who dialed into a meeting while driving.

Presenter: “We’ll just wait a few minutes for everyone to join.”
(A minute of collective awkward silence)
Road Rage Rob: “Fucking GO, you moron.”

Presenter: “I’m sorry, did I hear y—”
Road Rage Rob: (muffled car honk noises)

14. The interview

When I was interviewing for my first “real” job out of college, I unexpectedly hit it off with a recruiter for a corporate position in a fairly well known department store, mostly due to my current status as working at a veterinary clinic and her love of dogs, rather than any real inclination towards or experience in the fashion industry. They had a group interview day that I attended. The following things happened:

I walked into a room full of tall women in designer suits who all looked like they had done modeling work in the past. They all had the exact same hairstyle and general aesthetic. I am very short, cannot tame my curly hair, and was wearing an ill-fitting suit I had picked up at a thrift store, with other ill-fitting little boy’s dress shoes, as I did not like heels and had not figured out other options at that point in my life.

  • They showed me the “purse storage area.” I said I did not carry one because they were ridiculous and I liked pants with pockets. Purses were one of their main products.
  • They did a “round robin, answer in 30 seconds” interview, in which I felt total honesty was the best policy. When asked what I would do if I was a ghost, I said it’d be fun to hide in government offices and learn state secrets, or if it was hard to travel, just do things like squirt mustard on people I don’t like. The interviewer was not impressed.
  • Another interviewer asked me for my favorite joke. I blanked completely and told the only joke I could remember in the moment, the one my veterinarian told 42 times a day, which was, “How can you tell the difference between an oral and rectal thermometer? The taste!” I provided no context for why this joke was the one I chose.
  • During lunch, every other person in the interview only got salad. I at that time hated salad, but felt pressured, so got only the salad and tried slathering it with honey mustard dressing to cover the taste. Instead, I somehow knocked the full plate of honey mustard covered salad onto the floor and my lap, face down. It also impacted my neighbor’s lap, who was one of the interviewers. We both finished the rest of the day with honey mustard stained pants. Mine were black and it didn’t really show. Hers were a very light gray.
  • In the final group interview stage, we were treated to some face time with senior leadership. They asked each of us to tell them our impressions of their store located in our hometowns. Following my “honesty is best” policy, I stated that I hardly ever went to the store because “it was for old people.”

Finally, when the kind hearted recruiter called me to let me know that I (shockingly) did not get the job, I had no idea how to react to the news, so I yelled “OK, fine!” and just hung up, like a child. While I hope the company has increased diversity and has better interviewing techniques at this point, it remains the worst interview of my life (and I sincerely hope I never top it).

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