Recruiters share their true job interview horror stories

By October 26, 2014Human Resources
Human Resources Skeleton typing

We’ve all experienced the terror of the job interview. The sweaty palms, the pounding heart, the paralyzing fear! But have you stopped to think about what it’s like from the other side of the desk (or phone, or Skype)?

The hiring manager is just as nervous as you are. His or her job often depends on finding the right candidate. These brave men and women have their own set of horror stories to tell about the characters and creatures that occasionally lurch their way into the interview.

Beware that you don’t make any of these mistakes!

The Hands of Hell!

“While in the restroom washing my hands I noticed someone walk out of the bathroom stall without washing his hands, ‘Gross,’ I thought. I went back to my office and the receptionist rang to inform me my 1:30 appointment was in the lobby. Low and behold my 1:30 was the person from the bathroom. I met the candidate at the front and sure enough he reached out to shake my hand. I told him that I had arthritis, so I was unable to shake his hand.” – Chris Lawson, CEO, Eli Daniel Group.

Ew! Whether or not the hiring manager may be watching, please just wash your hands.

Trash Talking Frankentramp!

“I asked why she left her last job and she said, “You’re not supposed to say anything negative about your former employer, and I know that, but, you won’t care. This lady I worked for was crazy.” She told me that this lady, the owner’s wife, was jealous of her because she wore very skimpy clothes and was flirtatious. She said she liked to wear skimpy clothes and she knew the owner (husband) loved it.” – Chris Lawson, CEO, Eli Daniel Group.

Unless you’re applying for a job in a brothel, trumpeting your wanton ways is not going to impress anyone. (Except apparently the owner of the previous company Frankentramp worked for.)

The Stench of Doom!

“A very well-intended lady came in to my office. I noticed almost instantly that her perfume was so incredibly strong that I literally had to cut the interview off after 5 minutes and politely explain to her that she can’t proceed with almost half a bottle of fragrance on her. I felt bad for her as she was a nice candidate, but it was so stifling that I had to find some Lysol to spray so that I could continue my work day.  It was very awkward telling her, but perhaps she ultimately took my advice on no perfume and found a job.” – Chris Lawson, CEO, Eli Daniel Group.

Go easy on the scent. Or lay off completely. A lot of offices are no scent zones these days.

The Nefarious Imposter!

“A candidate listed a company on his resume where I had previously worked. He never worked there. He was not pre-screened by our HR department, so the discovery of his ‘exaggeration’ happened while we were face to face during the interview. Neither one of us really knew where to go after that.” – Ian Siegel, CEO of (The interview happened at a former company).

This is why we don’t lie. It’s very embarrassing when we get caught.

The Dangerous Game!

“I flew from NY to LA to interview someone who asked me to stand there and wait in a hotel lobby so that she could finish the game of solitaire she was playing, because it looked like she was going to win.” – Ann Larson, Managing Partner, The Interview Experience.

I’ve got nothing to say to this. It’s just ridiculous.

The Creepy Come On!

“I was doing a phone interview and when I asked if the candidate had any questions for me. She replied, ‘You sound very attractive, I think we may have a connection. Would you please describe what you look like in detail?’ Really????” Ann Larson, Managing Partner, The Interview Experience.

Don’t hit on the hiring manager. Seriously. Just don’t.

The Creature from the Dungeon!

“I asked a recent college grad what was the last “professional” book she read, and she replied, 50 Shades of Grey.” – Ann Larson, Managing Partner, The Interview Experience

Her previous ‘professional’ job apparently had something to do with domination and dungeons. Or so one would assume.

The Man (Woman?) Whose Brain was Eaten by Zombies!

“When asked why they wanted the position one candidate answered “I don’t know.” In another instance, when asked if the candidate had any questions they replied ‘What does your company do?'”  – Matthew Ferree, Lead Technical Sourcer, MARS (Master Accreditation in Recruiting and Sourcing)

Wow. That’s just plain stupid. Please – do your research before showing up for a job interview.

The Smoke From the Pits of Hell!

“We recently had a guy pull out a cigar during the interview and stand and walk around with it while he was talking.” Morgan Nichols, Managing Partner, Torrey & Gray

The job interview was not, in fact, an audition for the role of George Burns.

The Mysterious Closet Full of Skeletons!

“One applicant handed over a list of three references, but then pointed to the first one and said, ‘But don’t call this guy.’ She paused for a moment and then indicated the second reference and said, ‘You’d better not call this one either.'” – Peter Harris, editor-in-chief of Workopolis.

This isn’t going to make anyone wonder. What? Look over there!

The Clueless Creature!

“My co-worker finds the interviewee sitting at our kitchen table drinking a beer with other people from our work. She comes upstairs WITH the beer! She wore leggings to the interview. Post interview, we walk her downstairs, say goodbye and go upstairs for about another hour. We go back downstairs to leave (this is at like 9pm) AND SHE’S STILL THERE DRINKING! She stayed until everyone left!” – Tracy, company undisclosed

Hint: Don’t get drunk at the job interview. Even if it’s a CEO position and everyone else is doing so.

Hiring managers: Would you please answer 2 questions for us? Thank you!

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  • Nick Kossovan

    When is the article on sharing horror stories about recruiters going to be posted?

    It’s a 2-way street, which is often forgotten.

    • chefacec

      no shit…I could write a book.

    • Sound_of_Mind

      “Our [outdated] software is pirated, no one in the shop speaks either of the official languages, the company lost 20% of it’s value last year,we can’t afford to pay you for the first three months and we’d be paying you [below average wage for position]”.

      Yeaaah… No.

    • Tzenxia Lee

      sorry, we can’t hire you, because you’re too qualified for our company, you will be too relax while working here, and we even can’t pay you like you wished, we only small and family business company… *grrr… wasting my time to come

      • sa

        I don’t suppose the fact that you have absolutely NO GRASP OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE has anything to do with it…

    • Mr. Skungeous

      Following a 1½ hour ‘nailed it’ interview, a business owner picked up my resume from his desk and gave it the once-over:

      “Hey, you have no sales experience…”

      No, Sir, but I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it up to the point where you spent a few perfunctory seconds on basic screening.

  • Guest

    we like to hire you, but sorry you’re too qualified for us, even we can’t pay you as you wished, we’re only small company *grrrr….wasting my time

  • Anni

    I have a good one of each, both amusingly from the same friend…

    At her interview for her second ever job at the tender age of 17, she was asked about previous roles and told them she’d had just one. When asked why she hadn’t listed them as a reference, she answered: “because I was fired for stealing from the register and didn’t want you to find out.” Wow, I have some dumb friends.

    That said, I once went to an interview after having had some henna tattoo’s done on my arms, and you could just about see the tips poking down onto my sleeves when I reached for something. The interviewer asked about them, and I reassured her they were temporary and would only last another month, if that (the job wasn’t for another 6 weeks so it was a null point). She looked at them for a moment, scrunched up her nose, and eventually said “ok, fine, but if they’re still there on your first day you’re going to have to like, bleach them off or something.” Yeah, the job doesn’t pay THAT well…..

  • ben21312

    “You’re a great fit for the job but you live 7 miles away from the territory and you need to be within 5 miles. Will you relocate?” Oh yes, I’ll move 3 miles down the road! lol WHAT?!?!?!?