4 interview disasters you’ll never forget

When I’m successful in helping a business to grow, they ultimately need to hire more people. So I get involved in helping them to recruit, interview and hire. Our process is to help write a really excellent job posting that attracts top candidates, then we do a phone screen before we recommend a face-to-face interview. But even with all that preparation and pre-screening, there are just some things that you can’t find out on the phone. Here’s a collection of my biggest interview disasters.

1. The red-headed surprise

The phone rings and it’s my client’s name on the caller ID. I pick up the phone anxious to hear how the interview went with the latest candidate I sent her. As I bring my phone to my ear, all I hear is raucous laughter. She’s got the speaker phone on and her whole team is in her office and they can’t stop laughing. This is not a good sign.

Apparently the very qualified candidate that I sent in arrived wearing a bright red toupee on top of his very black/grey fringe hair. It wasn’t just that it was mismatched, it was also unruly; uncombed, and wandering around his scalp as he talked. The interviewers tried hard not to spend the whole interview just staring at his head, but the fact that it was only loosely tethered to his scalp made it impossible to look away (like when you can’t turn away from a car accident about to happen).

The interview was a disaster. I tried to get them to engage in a conversation about his qualifications and how he had responded to the questions — but the disastrous hairpiece overshadowed any consideration of his qualifications.

2. The over-reaching accountant

My client had been in the business over 25 years. She is very successful and capable, but numbers and accounting are not really her thing. We were interviewing for a new Controller and one of the candidates was young, but very impressive on the phone. He had some industry experience, had worked for another small, privately held business, and done well. I was hopeful that he was the one.

During this interview disater, it became clear that he thought very highly of his own knowledge and skills. He started out by “teaching” us about accounting, then went on to tell us about all the things we were doing wrong in the business (in his opinion) and finally suggested that we give him ownership in the business quickly, so that we wouldn’t go out of business. When the owner replied that she wasn’t interested in giving anyone ownership he replied, “That’s OK, I wouldn’t want to be a partner in a business that’s so poorly run.”

3. The persuasive felon

In this interview disaster, we were phone screening potential sales people. One candidate in particular sounded like he was calling from a house party. But we wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and pressed on. He told us about his superior performance on a tele-marketing team; how his performance was head and shoulders above the rest. When we asked him where he placed on that team — Top 20? Top 10? — he answered “Oh, I’d say definitely in the top fifty percent.” That impressed us, but not in the way he was hoping!

But it got better. When we asked, “Tell us about a time that you were persistent in persuading someone. We want to hear how you overcame obstacles to win a deal or opportunity.” This young man told us with pride about how he had been recently turned down for a lease application because of a felony drug conviction that showed up on his background check. “But it was a mistake. It wasn’t a felony; it was a possession charge, which is only a misdemeanor.” He regaled us with the tale of how he got his criminal record corrected (overcame obstacles) and how he got the lease to the apartment (he won the deal). But we didn’t give him a job.

4. I’m not really a morning person…

not a morning personWe were interviewing a new college graduate who had never held an office job before. I’m always cautious of these candidates — I usually want someone else to teach them the norms and standards of office work — but she appeared to be very talented, and she made it through to the second face to face interview. I talked about the work hours, 9 – 5:30, and the need for punctuality.

You mean I really have to be in the office by 9AM every day?” “Yes, every day”, we explained. “Is there any flexibility on that? I’m not really a morning person.” She wasn’t really going to be our employee either!

Preventing Interview Disasters

While these are some of the more extreme interview disaster stories, they do exemplify the importance of having thorough interviews with open ended questions. We usually recommend 2 rounds of interviews lasting around 2 hours each. You would never want your son or daughter to marry someone that they had talked to for just 30 — 60 minutes, and yet, we think we can judge someone’s fit with our business in that short a period of time!

In order to make that interview time productive, we use a written interview guide so that we ask the same questions to each candidate in order to get a better apples-to-apples comparison. Asking every question on the interview guide also keeps us from making assumptions about what the candidate would answer — we just ask the question and listen to the answer. You would be surprised how often I’m asking a question thinking, “I know she’s got this one, ” and it ends up that they don’t!

As the interview disaster stories above show — even a tight recruiting and interviewing process will not protect you from spending time with some real curious candidates. But they will ensure that you don’t hire them!

This post is also a part of a competition for Jobs Today Embarrassing Interview Challenge.

Do you have any interview disaster stories to share? Please do in the comments below!

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Photo credit: History In An Hour, amatern,

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