Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Adventures In Recruiting: A "No" Means "No"

One of the advantages of using a recruiter is that most of the time they can get you feedback faster than you can get it yourself.  One of the toughest things to do is to tell candidates that they did not get a job.  Occasionally when this happens, candidates ask if there is anything they can do.  The answer is always no; a nice thank you note acknowledging the rejection and telling the company that you hope there will be another opportunity is a classy and smart thing to do.  Once a company’s (or hiring manager's) mind is made up, they rarely, if ever, change their minds.

On this subject, I heard an amusing story which I wanted to share. It did not happen to me or to one of my candidates. But this is a true story; I have changed some of the details to protect the guilty.

A candidate was told "no" after having met human resources and the CEO.  The CEO did not feel he was right for the job or for the agency.  The candidate believed that he was perfect for the job and couldn't accept his rejection.  He decided to try to get another interview.  He called his recruiter and asked for another meeting.. The recruiter called the human resources director, asked for the second meeting and was told, "No."

I have had many of these conversations over the years.  The candidate gives all the reasons why he or she thinks he is right for the job.  If I was given specific reasons why the candidate is wrong, I tell him or her. Generally that is enough.  However, in this case the candidate insisted.  He was so convinced he was right for the job that he went “rogue”, bypassing the recruiter.  He started calling the CEO. The CEO’s admin politely told the candidate that there would be no additional meeting.  So the candidate developed his own plan in order to force an interview. 

A few days later, he sent some sort of singing telegram.  The person delivering it was dressed up as a car (no kidding).  He arrived at reception, asked for the CEO (Imagine the call from the receptionist: “Sir, there is a car here to see you.”).  The executive came to the reception area whereupon the car played a music track on a boom box and started singing a popular song, lyrics changed, requesting a second meeting.  The lyrics, of course, told why this candidate was wonderful for the job and that the CEO had misjudged the candidate.   By the time the car stopped singing, a crowd of employees had formed in the reception area.  When the song was over, the car person presented the CEO with a letter demanding another interview.   The CEO was flabbergasted and very embarrassed. (Imagine if the employees had not known the job was open).  It didn’t happen in the privacy of the CEO's office, but right out in the open so that everyone could see and hear.  The CEO had to stand there listening to lyrics saying, essentially, you made a mistake by bypassing me.

It made the CEO furious.

I am sure this scheme cost a lot of money, not to mention time and energy.  It backfired. The agency will never see the candidate again.  Not for any job.  The recruiter will now never deal with the candidate either.  It was a total embarrassment to everyone involved.

It was a case of just going too far.  This was not a junior candidate.  He is mature and experienced enough to know that no one likes to have their decisions questioned.  Nor do they like to be made to look like a fool.  The irony is that the incident proved that the CEO’s initial judgment about the candidate was correct.


  1. Really a very sad story. It sounds like an act of desperation by someone who obviously had lost perspective and lacked sound business judgment.

    In a faraway galaxy, a long, long time ago, these were the types of antics ad people used to try and woo a new client (remember the classic story of Georg Lois threatening to jump out the window or Jerry doing the bathtub ad for Kohler?)

    For better or worse, those "hijinks" days are over.

  2. I know it's a different animal Paul, but John Dooner as head of McCann was once fired by GM while away from the office. He was in the Atlanta airport, no doubt on his way to see Coke, when he received word. He called the head of marketing at GM and asked not to be fired until he got to Detroit. He refused to be canned without an audience, boarding the next flight out.

    He saved the business. How? You'd have to ask him.

    Maybe not in recruiting but "no" every once in a while gets a mulligan. Steve@WhatsTheIdea.com

  3. Paul, another great piece with a valuable lesson for any candidate whether they be a newbie or the most seasoned of executives.

    While you can't fault the candidate for his confidence and his belief in the potential value that he could provide to the prospective employer, the size of his ego clearly surpassed his ability to know when it was time to call it quits. A gutsy move that made the candidate stand out but cost him way more than he bargained for in the long run.

    Your post does bring up an interesting topic though. Clearly this candidate was trying to not only make a point, but also “rise above” the rest of the candidate pool. In an increasingly competitive environment for agency positions, how would you recommend prospective candidates help differentiate and make themselves more memorable beyond the achievements listed in their CV, particularly account people? For example, does including something like the link to your website/blog in the header of your CV, or even something as bold as a QR code on the backside that links to your Twitter account , help or hinder your “marketability”, provided that it’s all relevant content? One would assume that it would help if you are positioning yourself as a digital or creatively-savvy account person but account management also seems so traditional at times that doing something like this may potentially hinder your candidacy.

    Any thoughts on the subject?

  4. Dear Anonymous: Thanks for your comment. You raise an interesting question and one which I have wrestled with. The problem faced by candidates who apply to companies without a recruiter is that you never know what they are looking for. (If a recruiter is introducing you, they can make you stand out.).

    On June 7, 2010, I posted a blog on resumes. Here is the link so you don't have to look for it: http://viewfrommadisonave.blogspot.com/2010/06/ten-things-didnt-know-about-your-resume.html. Truth is, if there is a job open, all anyone at a company looks for is where you worked, what did you work on, how long were you there. If those things match their criteria, they will see you. If those things are buried in your resume they may miss them and pass you by.

    As for putting LinkedIn, blog links and QR codes on your resume, they certainly cannot hurt. However, in most cases no one will check - your LinkedIn profile and your resume are redundant to each other - I strongly doubt that the "screeners" have the facilities to scan and interpret a QR code, at least not yet.

    Junior people still occasionally resort to stunts, clever resumes and other things to get noticed. Over the years I have saved a collection of them, but lately, I have not seen too many. They no longer seem to work.

  5. The days of the pizza box resumes are long gone, as well...

  6. Wow. Sounds like you suck at filtering out nutjob candidates. Or are very imaginative when it comes to inventing stories to support your theories. Either way, I'm not sure why anyone would want to use you as a recruiter.


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