Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Adventures in Recruiting: Bad Answers

I thought I would share some of my favorite dumb answers over the years.  These are all true.  No creative license. No exaggeration. 

First, there is the one about the account executive who was on a final interview at a mid-size shop.  The job was on a busy retail account.  Through the two or three previous interviews, everyone stressed how detail oriented and organized the account  needed to be.  The AE was now meeting the chairman who was a notoriously tough executive.  The AE was asked by chairman, “If I called your boss (which I won’t), what would he tell me that is negative about you.?”  Great question.  Wrong answer: “He would tell you that  I have a messy desk and I am disorganized.”   He got dinged while still in the chairman’s office.

I think I posted about the account supervisor who told an interviewer that he did not really want the job.  However if they would give him a better title he “might” consider taking it. Next.

Recently, I had a candidate interviewing client side for a director of marketing spot.  She knew it was supervising multiple people, of course.  When asked what her least favorite part of business was, she told them that she found supervising people was a pain in the you know what.  When they told her that among her job responsibilities would be the supervision of staff, she started to backtrack and told them that she didn't really mean that she didn't like to supervise, but that she would rather do the work herself - it was more efficient.  So she stuck both feet in her mouth.

I always tell my candidates the range of what the job will pay.  I am very literal when my clients tell me the top end and never introduce someone who is making or wants more without first telling my clients.  Over the years I have had many candidates rejected because someone asked them what they were looking for and the applicant named a number so far above the job spec that they were rejected on the spot.  The candidates generally tell me they “were negotiating”.  Wrong. Never negotiate until you have an offer.

I had a candidate interviewing at a suburban agency.  Each time they saw her, she took a train from the city and took a cab to their offices.  She told me she really wanted the job and would figure out her transportation.  She was offered the job on her last interview.  She agreed to start the following Monday.  She was told that on her first day they would meet her at the client’s office in New Jersey.  She asked them how she should get there.  They told her to rent a car and she would be reimbursed.  Unfortunately, she didn’t have a license and told them she did not plan to get one.

I once had a candidate who was asked what her least favorite advertising was.  She named three commercials.  All were from the agency where she was interviewing. On the other hand, a candidate at BBDO told them she loved their MasterCard commercials.  And another candidate at BBDO asked for a Coke.  This is called, do your homework.

Over the years I have had many candidates send a form letter thank you for an interview.  All too often the candidate forgets to change names so the email is addressed to Linda but the salutation says Dear Robert.  This is instant death of a candidacy.

I once had a very senior candidate interviewing at TBWA who went out for dinner with Dick Costello, the president.  Dick asked him if he would like a cocktail and he ordered a Ketel One on the rocks.  Ouch.  Again, lack of homework.
Years before I was a recruiter, I sent a well qualified person to see the director of operations of at a medium size agency.  They were both friends of mine.  The person I sent was interviewing to be the head of broadcast traffic.  When asked what he wanted to do with his career, he responded that he wanted to be head of broadcast traffic and eventually move into agency operations.  The head of operations became almost apoplectic and said that was his job.  He wanted to know if my friend wanted his job.  The candidate, winked and replied that he would love it.  The director threw him out of his office and told me never to send anyone that aggressive again.

Then there are the people who come in here and say rather bizarre things.  I once had a fellow who refused to tell me his current salary.  He looked at me and very defiantly said, “If you are so good, you tell me what I am or should be making.”  Next.  People tell me things that are intimate and, possibly, too much information, and then say things like, “Well, I wouldn’t say this on a real interview”.  Then I realize that they really haven’t a clue as to what a recruiter is or does.

If you have stories which I might enjoy, please share them with my readers.


  1. Hi Paul,
    I cold called a candidate who in our interview told me he wanted a great deal more money then what he was currently making. I explained that was not possible, but that he could have a healthy increase. He told me he would think about it. Next I know my client calls me to say that the candidate contacted him directly and when he was asked how he knew about the job, he told him through a recruiter (it was exclusive), but thought he could save the company money by not paying my fee, :-). Oh yes, we trust you... not.

  2. Paul- love the blog. below is the exact feedback I provided our internal HR regarding a recent candidate I interviewed.

    "Perhaps it would have been asking too much to have him drop no 'F-bombs.'

    I know I’m a dreamer.

    But definitely fewer. Fewer 'F-bombs' would have been preferable."

  3. What about the many, many Planners I've interviewed over the years who tell me that they don't have a television, think television programs are all drivel, and have no idea what the hot shows are? Frustrated psychotherapists, please don't apply.

  4. Well, I made kind of a gaff just last week. In the beggining of the interview it was explained to me that one of the challenges of the job is that the client keeps launching what they consider new products but are really essentially just variations of the same thing - that you have to find new and exciting things to say each time. About 45 minutes later, when things became pretty much conversational, the interviewer said she had never worked on automotive (something I have) and wondered if it is exciting. Without really thinking I said "For awhile yes but you do get to the point where you get bored trying to figure out new ways to talk about a cup holder." I would say oops but it was 1 of 5 interviews, that day, and they are now checking on my references...so maybe it was forgotten?

    BTW, Paul...I am the person who mentioned, in your last blog, they were interviewing for a job that a recruiter had refused to present me for years prior...I will update you (probably directly) once everything comes to a conclusion.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

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