Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Adventures in Recruiting: Five Final Interviews That Ended In Disaster

I learned very early in my recruiting career that final interviews, which are often called a “courtesy”, can go awry.  Final interviews are generally saved for the most senior person in the company or the person who has the hiring authority to sign off on the hiring of a candidate.  But they should never be taken for granted as there are often surprises.  I thought I would share five stories – some quite funny, some really strange – of how they can end in disaster. 

All these stories were with candidates I represented.

1      1)    A young man was interviewing for an account supervisor spot at the old Bloom agency (Bob Bloom’s shop was bought by Publicis and was, for a while, called Publicis Bloom. Bob Bloom was a notoriously tough interviewer.  The account supervisor, who was interviewing on a difficult, fast-moving retail account, was told by the people who wanted him hired to just be himself and to be honest with Mr. Bloom and that he was a shoo-in for the job.  I think he took the interview for granted.  During the interview, the account supervisor was asked by Mr. Bloom, “If I called your current supervisor – which I wouldn’t – what would he say about you?  Without missing a beat and, apparently without thinking, the account supervisor said, “He would tell you I had a messy desk and was disorganized.”  End of that candidacy.

2      2)    An account supervisor was interviewing for a management supervisor spot at a small but well known creative shop. He had interviewed with everyone except the president of the agency.  The president of that agency did not like the large but well-respected agencies where the candidate had previously worked; nevertheless, the candidate was perfect for the job and had been told so.  The people who wanted to hire him had warned the candidate that the subject of big agency creativity might come up. At the very beginning of the interview, the president looked at the candidate and said, “When are you going to work at an agency that does good work?”  The account supervisor gave a great response, “When you hire me, sir.”  The president of the agency thought that the response was arrogant and brash (so he told people afterwards) and immediately dismissed the candidate saying, “At your level, I am not going to teach you about good work.”  He simply told the applicant to leave.  The interview did not last five minutes.  It left the agency’s staff astounded.

3      3)    An EVP was interviewing at a major agency to run account management.  He had already met and had been interviewed by almost every department head; they all liked him.  He was now meeting with the chairman.  Within a minute, it became clear that the chairman had not prepared for the meeting, had not looked at the candidate’s résumé and hadn’t a clue why he was seeing this person; I have always wondered if he even knew they were looking for a senior person.  Anyway, his first question astounded the prospect.  The chairman asked him, “Why are you here?”  The account person became unhinged. He opened his brief case, which contained a sandwich which had been purchased just prior to the meeting.  The account person looked at the chairman (a well-known person to everyone in the business) and said, “I came to deliver your lunch.”  He dropped the sandwich bag on the chairman’s desk and walked out.

4      4)    A senior group head was being interviewed for a job at a well-known creative shop.  He had already met two of the three founders of the agency.  This was his final interview and it was with the general manger, who had a reputation for giving strange interviews.  The applicant entered the office and found the general manager standing by the window looking out, with his back to the door. The candidate was not sure how to handle it when the GM started asking him questions without turning around. In fact, the interviewee had not been asked to sit down, so he was just standing by the doorway.  After about ten minutes of questioning like this, the prospect said to the general manager, “Sir, is there something out there that I should be seeing and sharing with you?”  The general manager, turned around and said, “Clients do strange things.  I wanted to see how you would act.  It took you ten minutes to deal with me.  That is too long so we are not going to hire you.”

5      5)    An EVP and head of account management at a major, large creative agency was interviewing to be hired by the chairman and owner of a small agency to be his successor.  The chairman was well into his seventies.  The EVP worked for a larger, multi-national agency which probably billed about $530mm domestically; the smaller agency had 15 employees and billed about $20mm.  They had been meeting for months, including several dinners and a lot of interaction with lawyers over the contract, which was finally drawn up and agreed to.  The EVP went to the small agency to sign the contract and to be introduced to the staff.  The staff knew about the new person and arrived early to have coffee with him. There was an air of excitement.  Just before the contract signing, the chairman asked the EVP which of the accounts at his current agency he would be bringing with him.  It was a subject never discussed.  The EVP said that his current contract precluded him soliciting existing business. The chairman, essentially, threw him out saying, “Why else would I hire you?”  That was the end of that.  The chairman was never able to hire anyone during the next three or four years he was alive.



  1. Gosh, people are weird! I'm especially baffled by the second incident. I thought he gave the perfect response and I'm wondering what he possibly could have said to satisfy the President??

    1. I have always suspected that the president had nothing against the candidate, but he was asserting himself with his own people to remind them that he was the boss.

  2. I once had an interview with a candidate that had just walked through the store, which sold collegiate apparel. I asked why he wanted to leave his current job and he replied, "I don't like selling clothes."


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