Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Eight Absurd Feedback Comments Received From Clients After Interviewing Candidates

I try to always tell the truth to my candidates.  It is one of the reasons why people like me.  However, there are times when it is necessary to either outright lie or to skirt the truth.  That happens when giving feedback that is negative.

Why hurt someone?  Especially, when there is nothing that can be learned from the negative feedback.  If I hear negative things which are correctable, like the way someone dressed or the way someone answered (or didn’t answer questions), I will always be honest.  

Occasionally I get feedback from clients which, if told to my candidates, would be cruel or absurd.  I don’t give that kind of feedback. There is nothing to be gained from it.

For instance, I recently had a person who was an EVP, Director of Client Service, talking to another, actually smaller and, in my opinion, less sophisticated agency.  The human resources person who did the interview is really good.  She told me that she thought that this EVP was not senior enough for his particular job.  I thought it a bit strange since the job the EVP currently had was bigger and more complicated. (The new job was in a different city, where the candidate’s wife was being relocated.).  I learned a long time ago that, in recruiting, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So why would I give my candidate that feed back? There was absolutely nothing to be gained from telling him that he was not senior enough.  It would have provoked an argument and ill will towards the interviewing agency, so I merely told him that it was not a good match.  

That is a good response and is the truth.  And it gets away from the negatives, which, in this case were inexplicable.  I thought I would share with you some outrageous feedback that I have received over the years.

I have had clients tell me things, which shouldn’t be repeated.  For instance…

          -   “She is slovenly and fat.” (Neither is true; I know the candidate for many years.)

           -   “We thought he is stupid.”

           -   “His New York accent precludes him from working here.”

           -   “She is southern and her accent won’t play here.”
          -   “He comes across like a hayseed. He looked like a mortician” (Said of a perfectly well                 dressed candidate who happened to wear a suit on an interview.)

          -   “She has a foul mouth and said the ‘f’ word too many times.” (True, but the company                 was forewarned, but I though this person could do the required job. And, in this case I                   told the candidate who told me, “Tough Shit”.)

          -   “…Doesn’t fit the job because he is too inexperienced for this role” (Said of a former
                President of a major ad agency, interviewing at a smaller agency. Huh?)

          -   "We didn’t like the agencies he has worked at” (They had the résumé in advance, so why                 did  they see him?)

This kind of feedback is actually not helpful or constructive since it provides no direction to me (or to the candidate, for that matter).  You can debate whether it should have been said to me at all.  I have always believed that feedback should relate to the job and the needs of the company. In that way, I can be more specific when I do give feedback to candidates.  Every candidate understands when they don’t have some qualification that a client is looking for.  They also almost always understand when it is not a good "fit".


  1. Great column Paul. These days at least I don't get negative feedback, I get none at all ;-)

  2. How 'bout, she was slovenly, fat, foul-mouthed with shitty credentials and BO?

  3. Sometimes, doing it the wrong way can turn out to be the right way. I got my first job in advertising on a bluff that got exposed. I'd dropped out of college and "copywriter" was one of three career paths that interested me. So I made up three fictional resumes (knowing I wouldn't want to work for the type of company that would check). Three months and ten cities later I was in Chicago interviewing with a creative director. He looked at my writing samples and said, "I like your work, but you don't seem very qualified to be in advertising." I replied, "But I have a BA in English and a Masters in Journalism..." Puzzled, he looked at my resume again and said, "This says you have a BA in Math and a Masters in Political Science." After an awkward pause, I said, "Oops. I gave you the wrong resume." Realizing the jig was up, I started to leave when he looked at me and laughed. "I'll give you two weeks to prove you can write as well as you can bullshit." And that was the start of a long and interesting career. For every bad feedback I suspect you've got a magical story like mine.

  4. Bravo. What a lovely piece Paul. And so well said.

  5. Paul, I wish everyone in all phases of business shared your philosophy of only sharing feedback for the purpose of improved performance or behavior. The rest is just mean-spirited

    1. Unfortunately, Ed, too many people become jaded and forget that they have a PR role to fill for their companies. I remember once a recruiter who had interviewed a candidate with poor credentials. I am not sure why he bothered to see him, but that recruiter told the candidate that he couldn't help him because he had, "third world" credentials. I was appalled to hear it from the candidate who turned out to be a really good guy and went on to a very good and successful career at first world agencies.

  6. Thank you, Paul. Wish there were more honest people like you in the recruiting business.

  7. Great post, and very helpful, Paul. Through lack of tact and superficial priorities, too many agency managers create little Hells on Earth.

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