Candidates Gone Wild: Recruiter Horror Stories

January 18, 2010 at 9:14 am 30 comments

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 “” 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!

    Entry filed under: Advice for Job Seekers. Tags: , .

Following-Up: An Essential Key to Success The Golden Rule for Business: Never Burn Bridges

30 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Carlos  |  January 18, 2010 at 10:06 am

    These were my impressions:
    1st case – the guy is an jackass.
    2nd – she probably wouldn’t work there for very long in the first place.
    3rd – what was he thinking???
    4th – a phone call doesn’t give the full picture, but in any case what does…
    5th – Well, IT and Network has more of it’s share of bath challenged people, anyway, there’s not much that could be known without an invasive credit check in this case.

  • 2. Jen  |  January 18, 2010 at 10:57 am

    These were just plain funny, although very frustrating and true. You described each candidate so well, especially Walt. Thanks!

  • 3. Doug Barnhouse  |  January 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    My worst story happened a LLLOOOONNGG time age. It was my first year in the recruiting business, 1987. I was recruiting hydrogeologists in the environmental industry back then, on a commission only basis. I had recruited David to go to work at an engineering company in Chicago. The offer was less than he was looking for, but he accepted, and was to start the day after Christmas. He actually accepted the job around early December as I recall. I couple of weeks later, I called his house to see how he was doing. He was not there, and his dad said he was not home and out of town. Being new to the business, and not yet having that sixth sense, I dismissed it. (He was interviewing with another company.) Remember he was to start the day after Christmas. He calls me on Christmas Eve morning (we only worked till noon that day,) and I wished him Merry Christmas, and he says, – “Doug, I have bad news.” I knew exactly then what it was. My heart sank as he told me he was going to work for a different company, not my client. Needless to say, that Christmas sucked. I called my client the day after Christmas (they were closed Christmas Eve) and they were not happy, and told me to “find another one.” After that experience, I can’t believe I am still doing this, and to this day will never forget that guys name.

  • 4. tom evans  |  January 18, 2010 at 1:16 pm


    Great stories. You would hope that I never wind up in one of those stories and hopefully by reading them, I never will.

  • 5. robert schepens  |  January 18, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Divison Pres, final interview. Had to play client golf before meeting COB at HIS Country Club. Round went late. Instead of showering and changing, drove to COB’s club for final meeting in golf clothes. COB (in suit) went through with meeting, got the intel he needed from the guy, called me to explain he would never hire a man who had that little respect. I had to agree, even though I did try to turn it around, to no avail. $500K X 33% down toilet. Filled the retainer with the # 2 guy one week later.

  • 6. Paul Ewinger  |  January 18, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Michael – love it, and glad that you posted it on this forum. I think that its important for true professionals to understand points of view from both sides of the interview table. That insight which job seekers can get into their target audience is often overlooked and undervalued.

  • 7. Houghton Hutcheson  |  January 18, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Got an email from one of my clients (hiring manager) saying that there seemed to be a problem with the most recent hire I had recruited for them a few months earlier. One of their female employees had gone online and entered her address at one of those sites that tells you if any registered sex offenders live in your neighborhood. Guess who turned up, mug shot and all. We are in Texas, and the alleged offense had occurred years earlier in New England, but once you are on that list, it is very hard to get off. As the candidate himself said when confronted with the information, “Some mistakes you never stop paying for.” Ouch. Needless to say, since that time, we have conducted a national search of all state sex offender lists in addition to our normal criminal background checks.

  • 8. Paul  |  January 18, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Some interesting stories there Michael. I have heard lots similar regarding the Myspace / Facebook ‘personailty’ tests. Thanks

  • 9. Coreen Darnall  |  January 18, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    These were a great laugh – even though I know they must have been oh-so-painful at the time. I’ll share one that recently happened to a new recruiter at my firm. We do permanent placement for physicians.

    Our candidate “Bob” was a perfect match for an opening one of our larger clients needed filled. He was appropriately trained, certified and experienced. He had a clean background check, no malpractice incidents, etc. He completed his phone interviews and a 2 day on site visit and meeting with all the key decision makers. He presented well and everyone loved him. Job offer was made and accepted, contract signed. Credentialing for the new facility nearly completed – the only they were waiting on was his state license to be completed as he was relocating from a different state. All of this took place over the course of about 6 weeks. A few days before the start date, when we were anticipating his licensing would become finalized, we were notified that there was a “delay” in his licensing as it had to go before a review panel. Since this is not standard procedure the red flags immediately went up – but the state licensing board would not tell us what the issue is (as applications are deemed confidential until a license is actually issued). The candidate claimed he incorrectly filled out one portion of the long licensing form (turns out he did – he lied about what county he was relocating from). In the end it was the client who made the discovery that blew all of our minds. Our candidate had recently been arrested in an internet sting for soliciting sex from a minor!! They had him on webcam recording dressed in women’s lingerie and doing unspeakable things for what he thought was a 14-year old girl! Since background checks for healthcare facilities and licensing boards check only for convicted crimes, this arrest did not show up. Checks with his previous employer revealed nothing. Had he not lied about what county he was living in, we may not ever have found out until he was already employed. In the end it was Google (now a standard part of our background check) who gave us the real story, complete with a copy of his photo so we could confirm this was the same man. Of course the client immediately withdrew their offer as this doctor could not have contact with children, and was not going to be approved by the licensing board to practice in that state. My poor recruiter was grief-stricken. This was her first placement! All I could say honestly was – nope, never seen that one before!

  • 10. Rochelle Wagner, Ph.D.  |  January 18, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Thanks for sharing your horror stories; I hope to never impress anyone in that fashion.
    As someone who is currently seeking a position, I enjoyed a humorous break.

    Rochelle Wagner, Ph.D.

  • 11. Marcello  |  January 19, 2010 at 2:33 am

    nice post, it’s funny how some people don’t understand the importance of the “first impression” or the meaning of the word “loyalty”…

  • 12. Scott  |  January 19, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Until about a year ago I was working in a management position with hiring responsibilities. Like most larger companies our hiring process involved interviews with several members of the management staff as well as the HR folks. After we had been interviewing for quite some time for a new director of Finance, we finally thought we’d found the perfect candidate. We led him from room to room, and after each interview he got a “thumbs up”, and we took him to his final interview with the hiring manager (not me).

    But there it ended. When asked “What one thing would you never tolerate in your department”, his answer was “Fat people. I just can’t understand fat people. I mean, what are they thinking? Can’t they diet?”.

    I won’t forget that one!

  • 13. Bhaskar  |  January 19, 2010 at 11:54 am

    This comment is not related to the post but to the overall blog. I kept reading this till 3 in the morning, long past my normal time. As a job hunter these posts are much appreciated

  • 14. Jim B.  |  January 19, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Very good post. Those are quite entertaining (and educational) stories.

  • 15. Joe Jiamboi  |  January 20, 2010 at 3:27 am


    I appreciate reading your postings as I find them informative and helpful and not just so much rhetoric.

  • 16. Brett  |  January 20, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Great articles Michael! You are very informative and enlightening.


  • 17. Greg Costa  |  January 20, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Once agian I can not pass up the opportunity to review your stories. They come in handy as I start to grow my consulting business with Management Placement.

    Greg Costa
    Vista Hospitality & Logistics Group

  • 18. Jill  |  January 21, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Interesting article and good to hear what actually happens. Pretty eye-opening on some of the candidates and interviewer actions. You never know what could set someone off, and to realize it could be something as little as touching a person’s desktop items. How frustrating is that!

  • 19. Pierre Coudriau  |  January 26, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Hey Michael:

    Kind of humorous. The Pig Pen story I found to be especially amusing. Thanks for posting.

  • 20. Mahi  |  February 1, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Very informative blog. Couldn’t agree more with this article.


  • 21. Paul  |  February 5, 2010 at 12:28 am

    Impressive stories!
    The ones in the comments are amazing too.

  • 22. J  |  June 17, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    The email address in the first story has to be the worst I’ve ever heard. It’s hard to imagine shooting off an email to a hiring manager asking for another chance and not thinking, “Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t use my hrdbod4u(at) account..” haha.

  • 23. Jenny  |  July 13, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Really great stories, but I’ve made the great first impression and landed the job only to be sadly surprised as the positions were not really what was listed and verbally described at all once I got into the jobs. This has happened to me twice! All that work, planning and presentation for total nightmares! UGH!

    Your nightmares at least made me laugh! Keep on writing!

  • 24. yesenia e  |  September 17, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Half these stories have happen to me. So they sound familiar and I have only been in the industry for 3 yrs. In addition , one stands out, when I asked a behavioral interviewing a question: “Tell me about a time when you have gone above and beyond the call of duty to get a job done.” Never going to forget this answer: “I was hired as a cashier, I came in and all I do is cashier. The boss told me to mop the floor because we were short staff so I grabbed my purse and quit. I do not go beyond my job description”
    That of course was BYE BYE BYE (like the song).

  • 25. Lica  |  December 1, 2012 at 7:05 am

    The stories are very intriguing. Here is my story in the candidate side:
    I participated on a recruiting process in Germany for a management position with a Headhunter from UK for a big multinational company in Frankfurt. After passing the first steps of the process via phone, I had an interview on the company site with the sales manager, sales director for the region and HR manager. I received a few days later a positive feedback from the headhunter saying the company wants me on board. However, the headhunter asked if I could be patient and wait 2-3 weeks since their client had still to get some authorizations. I said it was not a problem. On the 3rd week, I called the headhunter 2 times. I couldn’t reach him so I left a message in his mailbox in the second time asking if he had any news. I also sent him a nice e-mail reiterating my calls, asking politely about news. Since he didn’t answer my e-mail, I called again 3 days later. This time I reached him, he said he couldn’t hear me because he had a bad connection, we lost connection so I called again and reached his mailbox. I didn’t leave a message this time. Never heard from the headhunter again. I am frustrated, I feel above all disrespected. I do believe I deserve a quick e-mail or call saying, “Unfortunately the company hired someone else or they are not hiring now.”
    I understand this is not an amazing story, it is probably the most common issue on candidate-recruiter relationship, however for the candidate it is a true “horror.”

    • 26. Michael Spiro  |  December 1, 2012 at 8:29 am

      I agree — yours is, indeed, a “horror story” from the candidate’s side. Unfortunately, it’s a story I’ve heard all too often before — about both 3rd party recruiters and internal hiring managers or HR reps from companies themselves. As a recruiter myself, I’ve had similar experiences when my own contacts at client companies who led me to believe that my candidates were on the verge of being hired suddenly went silent on me — refusing to even return my calls or emails. It’s incomprehensible that such unprofessionalism has become so commonplace … but it does seem to be a very prevalent scenario in the job-seeking process.

    • 27. Bob  |  April 9, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      I moved across the country and looked for work while remote for 2 years and again over the last three when companies merged. I’ve got a dozen horror stories about recruiters…. They hire people with no experience who then judge your résumé on qualifications for a 20 year career. They rewrite your résumé. They tell you it’s contract to perm when it is not. If you refuse to take a job offer for low pay or they lied about the position they mistreat you and verbally abuse you. They don’t return phone calls on the front end of a job search. They don’t return phone calls if you didn’t get the job. The main thing for me is a lack of moral fortitude and greed. They treat you like a resource instead of a human. And when you call them again after a few months thy are gone off to their next career because they can’t do the job. I’ve known one and only one grey recruiter.
      I’ve been on Both sides. I write thank you notes to hiring mangers. Always dress professionally even for lunch meetings. I turn my phone off or leave it in the car. When I hire, if I interview a prospect I send a thanks but no thanks letter.

      • 28. Michael Spiro  |  April 9, 2014 at 2:48 pm

        It sounds like you’ve dealt with a lot of ass-hats! I guess I must be one of the “grey recruiters” you mentioned! Too bad everyone can’t behave ethically and with professionalism — like you and me!

  • 29. Noc  |  February 19, 2016 at 12:53 am

    Enjoyed reading this, however I think that there was no need of mentioning if he was over weight. If he was skinny, would that have gotten a mention?

    • 30. Michael Spiro  |  February 19, 2016 at 10:50 am

      Yes it would have. Unusually skinny, fat, short, tall, smelly, poorly groomed, badly dressed … all part of the description and the humorous depiction of a candidate whose physical appearance was likely to cause a negative impression during an interview. A bit sensitive, aren’t we???


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Michael Spiro

About the Author:

Michael Spiro has been a 3rd-Party Recruiter and Account Executive for nearly 20 years. He is currently the Director of Recruiting / NE Ohio Region for Experis Finance, a dedicated business unit of ManpowerGroup. Other recent positions include President of Midas Recruiting, a boutique head-hunting firm, Director of Talent at Patina Solutions, and Executive Recruiting positions with two of the largest search firms in North America. Before his career in the staffing industry, Michael was a manager in a large non-profit social-services organization. And in a former life, Michael was active in the entertainment industry, with extensive road-warrior experience as a touring performer (singer-songwriter / guitarist / comedian) and as a recording artist, producer and booking agent.  [More...]

Index (by Topic):

Résumés & Cover Letters:
 The "T" Cover Letter - The
         Only Type Worth Sending

 The Brutal Truth on How
         Résumés Get Eliminated

 Explaining Short Job Stints
         and Employment Gaps

 The Résumé Test &
         Checklist: Does Yours

 Beating the Résumé-
         Elimination Game: Where
         Do Recruiters' Eyes Go?

 The Truth About Lying on

 "Why Did You Leave Your
         Last Job?"

 How to Network: A
         Step-by-Step Guide for
         Job Searching

 Looking for Networking in
         All the Wrong Places

 Targeted Networking: How
         to Effectively Reach Out

 The Art of Giving: the Key to
         Effective Networking

 Face-to-Face Interviews:
         Secrets, Tricks and Tips

 Phone Interviews: Secrets,
         Tricks and Tips

 Skype Interview Tips ...
         Welcome to the Future!

 Nuggets: A Secret
         Interviewing Technique

 Answering the Dreaded
         Salary Question

 20 Surefire Ways to Blow
         an Interview

 "So, Do You Have Any
         Questions?" Nailing the
         Interview Closer

 Cool InfoGraphic: "What
         You Wish You'd Known
         Before Your Job

Age Discrimination:
 Age Discrimination: Secret
         Conversations Revealed

 Age Discrimination:
         Exposing Inconvenient

 Are You "Overqualified?"
         Handling the Age Issue

 Baby Boomers to the
         Rescue! An Idea Whose
         Time Has Come ...

 Overcoming Job-Search
         Obstacles and
         Redefining Your Career
         After 50

 Advice for Recent Grads
         and Career-Changers

Switching Jobs:
 The Proper Way to
         Quit a Job

 Counteroffers: Just Say No!

General Job-Seeking Info:
 The Real Truth About
         Working with Recruiters

 Contract/Consulting Jobs
         Explained ... Available in
         3 Different Flavors

►  What Recruiters Say
         vs. What Job-Seekers

►  The Dirty Truth About
         Misleading Unemployment

►  Let the Jobs Find You:
         Making Yourself More

 "Help ... I Need a Job!" A
         9-Step Guide for Newly
         Minted Job-Seekers

 Avoiding the "Black Hole
         of HR"

 Is Your Elevator Pitch
         Taking You UP
         or DOWN?

 Time Management: Recipe          for a Well-Balanced Job          Search
 Getting Un-Stuck from your

 The Double-Whammy of
         Rejection and Isolation

 "Unemployed Need Not
         Apply" - Working Around
         This Scary Message

 Using Social Media to
         Enhance Job-Searching

 Warning: That Rant You
         Posted Just Went Viral!

 The Golden Rule for
         Business: Never Burn

 The Power of a Positive

 Why Job Hunting is a
         Consultative Sales

 Top 10 Most Helpful Things
         for Job Seekers

 Top 10 Most Annoying
         Things for Job Seekers

 New Year's Resolutions for
         Unemployed Job-

Job-Seeking Humor:
 Comic Relief: Volume 1
 Comic Relief: Volume 2
 Comic Relief: Volume 3
 Comic Relief: Volume 4
 Comic Relief: Volume 5
 Comic Relief: Volume 6
 "In Transition" and Other
         Awkward Euphemisms

 Candidates Gone Wild:
         Recruiter Horror Stories

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