Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Adventures In Recruiting: The Worst (And Dumbest) Rejection Of A Candidate I Submitted

Recently, a contact posted a quote on LinkedIn; it was from the great Steve Jobs.  It is a quote which everyone in HR and everyone who has ever hired someone or will hire someone should live by:  “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”  It reminded me of the very first referral I ever made to an employer.

I was not yet a recruiter, I was merely a young account executive at a very hot and growing creative agency.  I had a friend who worked for another agency in a job which really doesn’t exist anymore.  His title was Radio/TV Business Manager.  In that job he was responsible for all traffic, job control, broadcast talent cost (residuals) and talent negotiations. The producers reported to him and he was responsible for all estimating for broadcast production.  (It was a long time ago, long before project managers and outside vendors keeping track of talent and residuals)  I knew this person well and also knew that he was highly regarded, both at his existing agency and in the business as a whole. He had been working at the same company for many years, since he graduated college – he was not a job hopper – but he was bored.

My agency was looking for a similar person.

I sent him to the person who he would be reporting to at my agency, the director of operations.  On the day of his appointment, he came first to my office and then I brought him to the operations director's office and introduced them. Their greeting was cordial.  My friend told me he would come to my office after the interview.  I expected to see him in a half an hour or so.

But ten minutes later he was in my office.  He told me it did not go well.  I was incredulous and asked what happened.  He said that the very first thing the director of operations asked him was, “What are you looking for?”
Here is the conversation that followed:

Candidate:  “I know you are looking for someone to be the TV/Radio business manager.  Paul told me about the agency and the job here and what you are paying.  It sounds perfect for me now.”

DO:  “What do you want to do with your career?”

Candidate:  “Well I would like to do this until I am totally familiar with the agency.  Then I would like to move up, do other things and eventually become director of operations.”

DO, who became exasperated:  “That’s my title and my job.”

Candidate (realizing he had given the wrong answer):  “Well it would enable you to move up, but I would not be a threat in any way. This is a growing agency and I hope to grow with it.”

DO:  “I am certainly not interested in hiring you. Why would I hire you knowing that you wanted my job?  It would put too much pressure on me.”

End of interview.

I was truly mortified for both of them.  The director of operations was a beloved employee.  Sadly, he was never was promoted and, eventually retired at the same title.  In retrospect, I realized that his attitude probably held him back.  I was only in the business a few years and realized that hiring aggressive and smart people was a smart move and I knew, intuitively, that it was and is a great way to get promoted.  It was something the director of operations didn't know or understand.

Soon after this happened, the candidate’s agency was bought and merged.  He started at the merged agency at the same title but because it was much larger, he actually was in a bigger job.  He worked there another twenty or so years until he retired, so essentially, he spent almost 40 years at the same company.   

The irony is that in about two years he became the Chief Operating Officer.


  1. Most of my career I owe to supervisors who knew their rise would be on the shoulders of subordinates who lifted them up. The unexpected biproduct has been that, now that I’m “retired”, my plate remains full of gigs from successful people who still value my input to their continuing success. Payback isn’t always a bitch!

  2. I interviewed at the old Ammirati & Puris (via a different recruiter - sorry Paul). I was a perfect fit for the position, the interviews went great, but they rejected me. The reason they gave the recruiter? I wasn't "fashionable" enough for their agency.

    1. That agency had a reputation for rejecting people for reasons like that. Fashionability was one, looks were another. However, they lasted by telling candidates they were not a good fit.

  3. Paul ... Do you remember an HR guy at Young & Rubicam named Bruce Walling? He reported to Marie Mandry, SVP of Human Resources.


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