Epic Interview Fails: Real Life Examples of Poor Decisions That Led to Rescinded Offers and Terminations
Proper interviewing technique and etiquette are taught very early in life. Being professional, courteous and attentive to detail are all important factors that lead to job offers, whether you are brand new in your industry or a seasoned vet. The longer I have been in the staffing industry, the less I am surprised by the crazy things even the most intelligent people do. Some of the most qualified candidates who have some of the best interviewing skills may be the worst hire you make this year, leading to an implosion of wasted time and money.
One of the goals of The Headhunter Guide is to help you learn from other people’s mistakes. The following accounts are real-life examples of some of the jaw-dropping actions that I have personally encountered (either directly, a horror story from a client, or through close colleagues) that have led to disaster. The names are fake, to protect confidentiality, but the stories are real. Although these are extreme examples of what NOT to do, the morals still hold true.
Each are examples of seasoned professionals who are considered experts in their field with annual salaries of over $100k (some much higher as noted below). Many are well educated and some are even subject matter experts in their respective fields.
Sit back, grab a cup of coffee, get ready to shake your head, laugh a little, and introduce your palm to your forehead reading these epic fails of intelligent people making poor decisions.
Dr. Dre was a very successful US Board Certified Doctor who liked to be challenged. After many years with his current company, he looked for an opportunity that would help him continue to multiply his brain cells by better utilizing his education, extraordinary work history, leadership, and drive.
Due to his executive-level status, Dr. Dre was historically a very busy guy. Most of the calls that I had with him were from his Porsche as he was zigzagging from meeting to meeting. We had identified an opportunity that checked off all of the boxes on his career goal wish list. The position was an executive level role at a company across the country that would allow him to work from home part-time, travel to the office from time to time, and would involve both domestic and international travel to act as a subject matter expert representing the organization. The position was paying well over $300k in base salary, plus all of the bonuses and perks of executive leadership.
Throughout the interview process, Dr. Dre wound up charming the company as he proceeded through seven separate phone and video interviews. Yes, seven. After the seventh interview, the team wanted to have him fly out and meet with the rest of the executive staff to shake some hands and extend a formal offer. All Dr. Dre had to do was show up, smile, nod a few times, and he would be signing the offer letter in no time. Unfortunately for the doctor, his ego got in the way.
He arrived at the interview well dressed and a little early. Off to a good start, right? As he checked in at the receptionist’s desk he began to (and I am quoting the feedback directly from the team), “uncomfortably flirt with the receptionist to the point where she felt that she needed to remove herself from the situation and leave him by himself until the first interviewer was ready.” He then proceeded to meet with all of the top executives, each of whom were appalled by his language. He had dropped more explicit content than your favorite rapper’s last album.
Needless to say, Dr. Dre was sent jet-setting back across the country empty-handed and is now blacklisted by the company. Good thing they didn’t hire off the seventh interview, right?
Ben and Jerry- The Double Dippers
The story of Ben came from one of my clients, Ben’s direct manager. Ben was an independent consultant in a work from home position who was billing $85/hr for his services. He had multiple clients and managed his workload so that he would be able to bill well over 40 hours per week from his combined assignments.
From time to time Ben had to travel for his job and once in a blue moon, he would travel with his manager. This particular instance was one of those times. Ben and his manager had a couple of days to work on site together to meet a deadline. The first day went well. Both Ben and his manager were able to collaborate throughout the day. They both had individual tasks, but would meet multiple times during the day to collaborate.
They had planned for a similar process for day two; however, the execution didn’t quite go as expected. Ben and his manager broke apart to work on their separate tasks, but when it was time to get back together Ben was nowhere to be found. Hours went by, still no Ben. Ben’s manager went door to door trying to track him down, hoping that he was okay.
An hour into her search Ben’s manager finally found Ben locked away in an otherwise empty conference room, back to the door, on another laptop. At this point, his manager didn’t know what to think. She was partially relieved that Ben was okay, partially shocked that he was calmly sitting down after she has been frantically trying to find him for over an hour, and partially in bewilderment that he had two laptops with him. She confronted Ben and asked him what was going on.
Cool as a cucumber, Ben casually turned to his manager and proceeded to explain that he was trying to meet another deadline with one of other company he was consulting for and he needed to work on the other assignment for the last three hours. Time must have slipped away from him. Furious, Ben’s manager exclaimed, “But, Ben, we are here together to hit our deadline TODAY and I just spent the last hour trying to track you down. Now you are telling me that you have spent the last 3 hours on another assignment? This is unacceptable.” Ben apologized, shut down his other laptop, grabbed his company laptop and picked up where he should have been three hours ago, now with his manager trying to pick up the slack. Both he and his manager had to stay an extra three hours to complete the work.
When Ben returned home he proceeded to send his client a bill for 11 hours that day, trying to double bill both clients for his hours. The end result, he was paid for 8 hours and immediately terminated.
Jerry was also a career contractor like Ben, but after years of hunting contract assignment after contract assignment, he had decided it was time to settle down and find a permanent position with a reputable company. Luckily for Jerry, he wound up getting a job offer that was paying $100k (back in 2007) with a company car, stock options, annual bonuses, among many other perks. The company was one of the top in his industry. Everything was going well, until one day Jerry was caught red-handed with his hand in the cookie bowl.
Jerry thought he was ready to retire from contracting, but the extra income was just too tempting. He violated his non-compete and confidentiality agreement by working with a competitor on a part-time contract basis. The kicker, he was using his company’s equipment to run his side hustle. He used their company provided cell phone, company laptop, company email, and office supplies.
How did he get caught? Jerry accidentally forwarded an email to the wrong manager. Jerry was terminated and the company no longer hires career contractors for permanent positions (which is a shame that he had now ruined future opportunities for others).
Buzz was a nice guy, but not happy in his work situation. He was in a job that he didn’t really like. He was underpaid, under-challenged, and the commute was over an hour each way. He had an opportunity to interview with a company that was offering a better situation all around. The job responsibilities were both rewarding and challenging, the salary was 15% more than what he was currently making, and his commute would be cut in half.
After Buzz’s interview, the Director gave us a call and proceeded to tell us that we wouldn’t believe what just happened. He started by telling us that Buzz was extremely qualified, everyone on the team was impressed with his background, and he was quite a personable guy. Sounded great so far, so what was I missing? Well, Buzz was spitting fire when he was speaking. Each interviewer could smell liquor on his breathe and was having a tough time concentrating. Buzz was literally buzzed for the interview.
Obviously, the team didn’t move forward with Buzz and he had made it on my “do not call list”.
Paula the Photo-shop-lifter
We had just extended an offer to an ecstatic Paula. She had gladly accepted, gave notice, and was going to be starting her new position in a couple of weeks. A couple of days went by and our client reached out to let us know the background check company was having a tough time confirming her education because the university couldn’t find records of her degree on file. I looked back at her CV and her application, both clearly stated that she obtained her degree. She had listed the college name, her major, along with the date of completion on both documents.
I called up Paula and gave her the update, assuming that one of the kids in the registrar’s office didn’t look in the right place. The background company asked if she could provide a copy of her degree, which they would use for verification. “Sure, not a problem,” Paula said. A couple of days later, no response from Paula. I called to check to see how she was making out in her search only to find that she was still looking. I had gotten a long-winded story that it must be in one of the boxes she had in storage. At this point, the background check wasn’t verified and the team was required to postpone her start date another two weeks (to the next training class). Frustrated, the team had now set a deadline that the degree must be supplied by the end of the week or the offer would be rescinded. Paula said she would get it to me the next day.
The very end of the next day, Paula sent a poor quality photocopy of her degree. Something didn’t look right. Maybe her scanner was on its last leg, I don’t know. With the deadline closing in, I passed it along to the background check company to close out her verification. The following morning the background check company sent an email with two attachments. A sample of what the degree from her university is supposed to look like along with the copy that she supplied. There was a night and day difference! I called Paula back to update her once again and to get down to the bottom of the issue.
Keep in mind, for the last 8 weeks, ever since our first call, she had sworn up and down that she had a degree. Well, on this day, the wall finally broke down. In teas, Paula said that she had almost finished her degree, but there was a life circumstance that forced her to leave a few credits shy. Embarrassed by her lack of formal degree she Photoshopped a copy hoping it would pass the scrutiny of the background check.
The company immediately rescinded the offer and Paula was left with no job as her previous company already found her replacement. The saddest part of the story: the position did not require a degree in the first place! The company would have hired her, paid her the same salary, and she would be working there at this very moment if she was upfront on her CV that her degree was not complete. Palm meet forehead moment all the way around.
Should have been Bud-wiser
If you didn’t learn the message from Buzz, this is a second example of how mixing alcohol and interviewing is a disaster cocktail.
This story came from a close colleague, who was working with a candidate named Bud that he had been trying to place for a while. Bud was far along into the interview process, already having two phone interviews. So far, everything was going great. He had interviewed for a remote position and had one final interview left, a video interview with a few hiring managers via WebEx.
The managers dialed into the interview to see Bud sitting in his office. Directly behind him were a pile of empty beer cans. Not one or two, like a half of a case.
The team ended the call early, Bud did not get the job, but he Bud became a little Bud-wiser that day. From now on, he tests his video to see what is in his webcam’s view before going on a video interview.
Jackie and Jill- The Fraternal Twins
This is another account from a client. Preface: Like in Bud’s situation, the position was home based with the interview process including a couple of phone interviews with a final round video interview.
A couple of weeks into Jackie’s new position, the team started to show concern for her performance. She had interviewed really well and the team picked her over the other dozen applicants. She had answered situational questions perfectly, but didn’t practice what she was preaching on the interview. Since the company was quite large, Jackie had never had the chance to meet her manager face to face outside of the video interview. Conversations were limited to phone and email, but with her lack of performance, it was time to have an in-person meeting to try to get Jackie back on track.
Jackie and her manager eventually met up. Immediately, her manager was sitting there dumbfounded. Jackie looked a lot different than during her interview. She literally looked like a completely different person. After the meeting concluded, the manager reached out to HR and asked them to dig a little deeper. Luckily, the company had access to all of the video interviews as the software that they used recorded each session (which candidates were aware of, similar to when you put a call into customer support and they say, “This call may be recorded for quality reasons.”). These recordings gave hiring members who were unable to attend the interview access to the interview, thus giving them an opportunity to review the candidate at a later time.
HR quickly located the recording. The manager was right! Jackie was not the one who interviewed, it was her colleague Jill, an expert in the space who was doing the interview for Jackie to help her get the position.
Jackie was immediately terminated and, to this day, no one knows who Jill really is as she would only be recognized from the recorded video interview.
Following this event, the company (who has tens of thousands of employees globally) went back and started reviewing additional video interviews only to uncover MULTIPLE other examples of “Jill”s interviewing only to have “Jackie”s show up. Baffled, they shared their story with other companies in their industry who went back and checked out their recorded video interviews, only to find the same thing! I have seen people provide fraudulent information on background checks (having a friend or family member pretend to be their past manager) and fraudulent self-written references (which is why I don’t accept them at face value), but having someone actually interview on behalf of someone else was dubiously ingenious and absurd at the same time.
Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Like our other doctor, Dr. Jekyll was a highly intellectual board certified Physician. He had just received a job offer for $300k plus 40% annual bonus, a vacation home worth of stocks, along with a relocation package and temporary housing.
After signing his offer letter, we all thought this was a start to a long-term relationship between Dr. Jekyll and his new company. I mean, Dr. Jekyll had quite a few interviews, both phone and in person. The company had fully vetted him and had turned down many qualified candidates before they decided to extend him an offer.
As soon as the ink dried on his offer letter Dr. Jekyll had morphed into Mr. Hyde. Every day he had a new demand. The first day he wanted to have his title changed. Day two he wanted to change who he was directly reporting to. By the end of the week even demanding the team order very specific furniture for his office space.
He went from being extremely professional and flexible throughout the interview process to, almost in an instant, having changed his personality 180 degrees after signing the offer letter. Before his start date, the company rescinded Dr. Jekyll’s offer as Mr. Hyde wound up prevailing, never to see Dr. Jekyll again.
Although candidates can elicit bad behavior and poor behaviors, clients can be a little crazy too.
I had worked with a Director who had looked to start her own consulting business. She had interviewed for a position in which the company was floored by her experience. In order not to lose her to a competitor, they made her an offer the following day. She gladly accepted and had planned on giving a two-week notice the following week. All of the paperwork was signed with us (the staffing agency) and with the client. We were all just waiting for the start date to sneak up in a couple of weeks and she would be off to start training.
At the end of the week, our client called to say that they had to cancel the contract because they wanted to hire an internal referral instead. Shocked, we didn’t know what to do. They gave a commitment to her, she gave a commitment to them, and we are stuck in the middle trying to make sense of the situation.
We called back our soon-to-be consultant to give her the news, praying she hadn’t given her notice earlier than expected. Thankfully she hadn’t, but what if she did? Hiring on a contract basis is considered hire and fire at will. It is actually one of the beauties of hiring contractors because there is no long-term commitment. That being said, I have never seen a contract offer disappear out of thin air like this AFTER the contract was formally accepted, but before the contractor started their assignment.
Most people will look at these examples and think to themselves that this would never happen to them. You would never do anything like this. You clearly have the foresight to understand the implications of your actions. Unfortunately, most of the people who committed these epic fails would have said the exact same thing…until they made their poor decision(s). Some have learned from their mistakes while others are gluttons for punishment who continue to try to scam the system. It must be respected that everyone has their own personal situations, reasons for their actions, and sometimes the best intentions. If I can, at least, talk one of you off the ledge from doing something that you will later regret in your career (or, if you are a hiring manager, help you vet a candidate just one step further to patch a potential hole in your interview process), then I have fulfilled my goal of sharing this epic fails.
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