In the spirit of Halloween, our team wanted to share our best hiring horror stories with you. Names and identities have been altered to protect the innocent (and the ghoulishly guilty!).
When a Stranger Calls
Years ago I arranged a phone interview with a candidate for a search I was managing. I called at the time our interview was scheduled, but my call went directly to voicemail. I called back a minute later and when he answered, I started by introducing myself. He responded by telling me he was expecting an important call and was not interested in whatever I was selling and hung up.
On the third try, we finally got the confusion cleared up. I appreciate one’s vigilance in screening out spam, but if the telemarketer call comes at the precise time of your interview, you should think twice before hanging up!
On one search I managed, the hiring manager went on vacation or was otherwise out of pocket six times – totaling more than one month – of the two-and-a-half-month search. Like a ghost, he would appear and then vaporize without warning.
Candidates were starting to doubt if the client even existed because none of them actually got to see or interact with him. I thought about taking a picture of him, but everyone knows ghosts don’t appear in photographs.
Finally, the hiring manager resurfaced long enough for us to fill the role! But his internal nickname is now Casper.
Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble
Years ago we worked with a candidate who was philosophically aligned with the hiring organization, had experience relevant to the job opening…and was very, very laid back. The client decided to interview him, but shortly thereafter, they declined the candidate.
Surprised, I asked why. “Well, it was going pretty well until the middle of the interview when we started to hear bubbling. I couldn’t understand what was going on initially but then realized he was lighting up a bong.”
The client decided that doing bong rips in the middle of an interview – while a clear signal of an enviable level of confidence – probably isn’t a good sign.
Fortunately, the organization did eventually find a good fit for the opening. No word on where the bong guy landed, but if we ever have a Chief Party Officer opening, he will be our first call.
Dorm Room of Doom
Early in my career, I had a Zoom interview with a college student. As soon as he joined the call, I realized I had been led into the horrifying sight of his college dorm room! In fact, you could call it a dorm room of doom: poorly lit, dirty laundry everywhere, beer pong table set up in the background…not to mention the saucy lady poster askew. The room screamed angsty college bro with no escape!
Perhaps not surprisingly, our Zoom interview turned out to be just like his dorm room: a horrifying mess! By the end, his chances of getting the job were dead as a doornail.
The Zodiac (Interview) Killer
As a student, I applied for a part-time job at my university and was thrilled when I was moved forward for an interview with the department’s director. That is, until her first question for me was, “So what’s your sign?” I initially laughed, thinking it was a joke, but she remained very serious and waited for an answer.
So I told her. She spent the next 15 minutes breaking down what my sign indicated about me. I guess I was lucky that she thought highly of my sign because I ended up being offered the position. But it remains one of the most bizarre interview experiences I can remember.
Because I’m a risk-taker and maybe a glutton for punishment, I ended up accepting the job. Working for her was just as perplexing and unpredictable as you imagine it would be.
And if you’re wondering, I’m a Gemini.
When The Power Goes Out and Phone Lines Go Dead…
In every scary movie, it seems the power goes out and the phone lines go dead…and then you know all the good murdering is coming. Well, something similar happened with a search I worked on years ago.
My first couple of search update calls and emails to the client went unanswered, but I chalked that up to him being busy. I reached out again. Still nothing. At this point, I was mildly annoyed because we had candidates waiting for news, but I also understood how life can be. So, I reached out again…and again. Crickets.
At about 30 days in with no response, my mild annoyance turned to general concern. What if something bad had befallen him? Was he kidnapped and now being held against his will in a remote forest? Maybe he slipped and had fallen down a well? Or perhaps a murderous lunatic broke into his house, cut the power, severed the phone lines, and well…you know. Eek!!!
I stepped up my communication. More emails, more calls. I even tried reaching out on social media. Silence.
Then, after all of the candidates had lost interest and moved on, I finally heard from the client. It was about 90 days into the search. He offered no apology, no excuse. Just said that he found a candidate (perhaps it was the murderous lunatic that he had talked out of killing him and talked into a new career?). I wished him all the best, and strangely, we haven’t heard from him since.
Around Halloween, one should be on the lookout for bad omens.
Years ago right around All Hallow’s Eve, a candidate I’d never interacted with before emailed me six separate documents and asked me to combine them into one PDF so that she could apply for a position. Initially, I thought the email was sent to me by accident and that she intended to send it to her secretary, so I responded and told her very gently about the mistake. She quickly replied and confirmed that the email was not a mistake and could I please make haste on my administrative assignment because she wanted to get her application in early.
Then, before she actually applied for the position, she passed along a Calendly link to her schedule for the week and asked me to get her interview on the books ASAP, because, you know, she likes to plan ahead.
She finally applied correctly for the position (after a mere 9 incorrect attempts), but, perhaps not surprisingly, the client declined to pursue the candidate for “multiple egregious errors” in her application. Scary stuff.
When the Grim Reaper Comes For Your Mission
Years ago we worked on a search for a new client, which, as you’d expect from our clients, seemed committed to hiring someone philosophically aligned with its liberty-advancing mission. But several weeks into the search, things took a creepy turn. The hiring manager shocked us by saying he was not really concerned about philosophical alignment after all, and that he was most interested in someone local and known to him personally.
So, in the swipe of a scythe, he declined more than a dozen liberty-minded candidates and that was the end of our search. We later learned he hired someone whose beliefs were quite antithetical to free-marketing thinking, but who ran in the same social circles.
When the Grim Reaper comes for your mission and you offer it up to him on a silver platter as this hiring manager did, things typically end poorly. We heard later that the surprisingly hired became the predictably fired. And word on the street is that the hiring manager has a new-found concern for mission alignment!