Candidates Gone Wild: Recruiter Horror Stories
Over the many years that I’ve been a recruiter, I’ve certainly had my share of success stories. I’ve worked with many talented candidates who were eager to accept coaching and constructive criticism, and who then interviewed with my client companies, landed great jobs, and went on to perform successfully in their new roles. Some even became decision-makers themselves, and then turned around and used me to recruit other candidates for their companies because they liked the way I worked with them … which is every recruiter’s dream! That old saying, “what goes around, comes around” is so true – certainly in the staffing industry.
On the other hand, I’ve also had my share of failures, goof-ups, and outright disasters. I’m sure that every recruiter who has been in this business for any length of time can probably come up with stories of interviews that went down the toilet, candidates who behaved badly, or placements that seemed like sure things only to fall apart at the last minute. So, I thought it might be fun to share a few of my worst “Recruiter Horror Stories.” While this posting does not technically fall under the category of “advice for job-seekers” like most of my other blog posts – there are certainly lessons to be learned and information to be gleaned from these stories. If nothing else, it’s advice on what NOT to do! And by the way … while the names in this posting are fictitious (for obvious reasons) these stories are absolutely true. These things actually happened!
- Ted was a PMP certified Project Manager – a candidate of mine who I sent to interview with a rather conservative Fortune 500 bank. Afterward, Ted told me he thought the interview had gone well, but the hiring manager ended up passing on him without an explanation. When I told Ted that bad news, he didn’t take it well. He felt they had misjudged him, and without my knowledge he began repeatedly calling and emailing my client begging for another chance – which naturally reflected badly on me as the recruiter. The email address Ted used for this unauthorized follow-up was “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Later, when I Googled Ted’s name, I easily found his Facebook page filled with photos of himself with drinks in hand looking totally wasted in a bar, carousing with several different scantily clad women, and generally looking like a partying idiot. (I can only assume that the client did that same Google search.)
- My candidate Sue was interviewing for a Web Designer job at a large software company. During the interview, Sue moved something on the interviewer’s desk to make room for her portfolio. When I later asked the decision-maker why he passed on a perfectly qualified candidate with extremely hard-to-find technical and design skills, he actually said to me “She touched my stuff!”
- John was a candidate of mine in Texas who interviewed for, and then accepted a great job as a Territory Sales Manager with a Medical Device company based in Boston that I was working with. After only one week on the job in Texas, he disappeared. No phone calls, no emails, no returned messages. He was MIA when the company’s CEO flew down to Texas for a scheduled meeting. A couple of weeks later, I found out from John’s sister, who called me looking for his new boss’s contact information, that John was in jail awaiting trial for a domestic violence charge! Many months later, John called and told me that he had been falsely accused (or so he claimed) of assaulting his ex-wife in a bar. She was now dating a cop, who pulled some strings and kept John in jail without bail! He had been too embarrassed to call his new boss and explain where he was. Needless to say, I lost that commission.
- Dave was a Software Sales candidate in Chicago. His résumé looked great, and he interviewed beautifully with me on the phone. He came across as upbeat, outgoing and very professional. I set him up for an in-person interview with my client company’s VP of Sales (who was himself, a former candidate of mine.) When the interview was over, I asked my friend, the VP of Sales, how Dave had done. His response was “who else do you have.” I kept probing and asking what was wrong with Dave. His background seemed so strong, his track record of software sales success was excellent, and he had worked for a couple of my client’s direct competitors. What more could they want? Finally, he told me: Dave showed up 20 minutes late to the interview dressed in jeans, sandals and a flannel shirt with a plastic pocket protector, had a pony-tail halfway down his back, multiple ear piercings, and had electrical tape holding his broken glasses frames together. (Perhaps that look might fit a code-writing software engineer who stares at a screen all day … but not a sales professional … and either way, it’s never a good look for an interview with a VP of Sales!!!) Sometimes, phone interviews just don’t give you the whole picture.
- My absolute worst candidate story is about Walt. A large local manufacturing company I was working with needed a Network Engineer, and Walt seemed like a perfect fit – at least on paper. His résumé looked great … he had all the right certifications and experience. But when Walt walked into my office for his first in-person interview with me, his appearance and lack of personal hygiene were astounding. He was overweight and wore an ill-fitting, out-of-date suit with a wrinkled and badly stained white shirt, and a mis-matched tie that was too short. His hair was greasy, he was sweating profusely, and he apparently didn’t shower very often. This guy was like the character “Pig-Pen” from the Peanuts cartoon strip … you could almost see the cloud of B.O. wafting around and following him as he entered the room. When I tried to tactfully suggest that he needed to clean himself up and buy some better interviewing clothes, Walt became very defensive, but then reluctantly said he’d consider it. Against my better judgment, I sent Walt to the interview … and wouldn’t you know it, he got the job! (Apparently person hygiene was not a major hiring criteria for this company … and he was, after all, still a good technical fit!) He was told by HR that among many other things, he’d need to bring a copy of his birth certificate with him on his first day of work to complete his I-9 form. I reminded Walt of this several times in the weeks leading up to his start date. On the Friday before he was to start, I called to check on things … and found out that he hadn’t been able to find his birth certificate, and had not taken any steps to replace it. I knew he would not be able to start work without it, so with only an hour to go before the Records Office closed, I personally raced downtown to City Hall and paid the $20 fee to get a duplicate birth certificate for Walt. (He said he had no cash, but would reimburse me after he got his first paycheck.) After one month on the new job, Walt was fired. It turns out he had used the new company credit card he was given to make several very large personal purchases. When the HR Director asked him if he knew he wasn’t supposed to do that, he readily admitted he knew it was wrong, but said he needed the money because he was in such deep debt. Needless to say, I lost that commission as well. Oh, and I never did get my $20 back!