Ask a recruiter: horror stories from the saddle


From eager mothers hoping to sit in on their children’s job interviews, to job sharing triplets. These recruitment horror stories sure are… interesting.

Ever heard the story about the candidate who asked for every Friday off – to prepare for her “big” weekends? What about the recruit who missed the first day of a new job – because her cat was wedged in her car engine? Then there’s the one who thought the ability to ‘speak Mandarin’ meant the ability to speak to mandarins. 

Believe it or not, these are not tall tales. They’re true ones, straight from the mouths of recruiters that we spoke to for this story.

There’s no such thing as a dull day in the hiring industry. And some days are more interesting than others.

So far in our ‘Ask a Recruiter’ series, we’ve talked about out of the box interview questions  and the surprising mistakes that hiring managers make. In part three, we speak with five recruitment specialists who share their best horror stories – and what they learnt from them. 

  1. The (possibly) accidental swimsuit model 

“Having recruited over 600 professionals, I have seen some outstanding candidates – and some who stand out for the wrong reasons,” says Andrew Sullivan, managing director, Sullivan Consulting. 

“I once received an application from someone who – accidentally or not – included, along with his resume for an executive position, an A4-sized photograph of himself in Speedos. This was before email was the norm, but the same is true today: always check your attachments. 

“I also generally advise against including photos in an application, particularly if they are social snaps showing the candidate with glass in hand … it doesn’t go down well with employers. 

“Neither does turning up to the interview tipsy or boasting about a big weekend … I think the lesson for those two examples is pretty straightforward: just don’t do it.”

  1. Do you have a brother – or maybe two? 

“We once placed a young guy in a temp warehousing admin assignment,” says Naomi Marshall, founder and director, Sprint People. 

“On day two, the employer called to say he felt the temp hadn’t retained a lot of what he’d learnt on day one. On day five, the employer called again, to say the temp had had two great two days, but, on the fifth day, behaved as though it was his first day on the job. It was all very strange.

“It turned out the temp was one of three identical triplets – and they were sharing the role between them! I asked the temp, ‘How do you decide which brother goes to work on which day?’ 

“He said, ‘We send whoever feels like working.’”

  1. The overprotective mother 

“We’ve had more than one candidate bring their mother to the interview,” says Graham Wynn, director, Superior People Recruitment.

“On one occasion, a mother tried to sit in. She said she wanted to make sure her daughter answered the questions properly. 

“I had to tell her, ‘You can’t sit in. Answering the questions is up to your daughter, not up to you!’

“We’ve also had mothers ring up and say, ‘There’s a job advertised on your website. I’d like to put my son forward’. We have to tell them, ‘If your son is interested in the job, he needs to apply. You can’t do it for him.’

“Unfortunately, this is hard to avoid. You can’t exactly ask an applicant not to bring a plus one to the interview!”

  1. Where’d you get that flash car? 

“I once recruited a candidate for an interstate position,” says Stuart Upward, director at Schward Recruit.

“The client called and said, ‘He’s settled in and is doing really well. But, tell me one thing, where did he get that flash car?’

“I said, ‘I don’t know. He said he had his own transport – I don’t usually ask candidates how they get their transport.’

“Over the following two or three months, everything was fine. The candidate was highly skilled and exceeded the client’s expectations.

“But, another two months later, I received a call. It was the candidate – and he was crying. He’d been arrested and put in the local lock-up. 

“The weekend before, he’d written the ‘flash car’ off in an accident, then abandoned it. The police put two and two together and quickly identified the car as stolen. The candidate spent several months in a correctional facility.”

  1. Gone girl

“I placed a candidate with a law firm, who was relocating from interstate,” says a Sydney-based recruiter, who wishes to remain anonymous.

“The client interviewed her three times, including twice via videoconference, then flew her up and, after meeting her in person, offered her the role.

 “Six weeks later she started the job. The firm put her up in a serviced apartment for four weeks, while she looked for a permanent residence.

 “Two weeks elapsed and all was going well – until I received a call from the firm to say the candidate had not come to work and was not answering her phone.

 “A day later, the firm gained access to her serviced apartment, only to find she had disappeared. The phone number was subsequently disconnected. The police later discovered it was registered to someone else. None of us ever found out what happened to her. GONE GIRL.

“Clients should always conduct background checks, to verify that people are who they say they are. Surprisingly, this only happens 60-70 per cent of the time, in my experience.”


You can’t always spot a job sharing identical triplets, but you can stay up to date with the latest recruitment and retention strategies. AHRI’s short course Attracting and retaining talent is designed to help you ace the talent management process.


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Jennifer Howe
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Jennifer Howe

My favourite interview story was when I was on the interview panel for an organisation involved in animal welfare.The candidate was asked “How do we know when you are under pressure?” The candidate answered “Oh, I always stay calm at work…. but might kick the dog when I go home.”. Jaws dropped, the candidate realised what’s she’d said, and needless to say didn’t get the job!

Sheila Baker
Guest
Sheila Baker

I just want to tell you about my favourite resume I received during my 8 years as a recruiter – it was written in poetry. It all rhymed. I kick myself to this day that I didn’t keep it. It was a work of art, albeit tongue in cheek.

Linda Norman
Guest
Linda Norman

I interviewed the ‘perfect’ candidate for a NFP fundraising role (surprisingly animal welfare industry again (like Jennifer’s example!). The organisation was delighted that we’d finally found the perfect candidate who had answers for every question and an impressive CV to boot. My reference check unfortunately uncovered that almost everything the candidate claimed was incredibly embellished or a brazen lie. When we confronted her about this, she said she would sue us – but of course she never did! Be vigilant!

Rachel
Guest
Rachel

A favourite of mine was when I was trying to recruit a specilised trade. We had been looking for months with no luck and eventually a recruiter found a candidate. He was qualified with a few years experience. Interview went well and he could start woth a weeks notice. All employees had to undergo drug testing prior to commencement and unfortunately this guy failed. He had about 5 drugs on board with levels indicating long term use. When I rang to inform him of the results, he said “I had a glass of wine the night before, that must have… Read more »

Che
Guest
Che

My mother did the come into my first interview thing, she was insistent because I wouldn’t know what to do, even answering questions before I had a chance to and obviously, I didn’t get the job. Made sure I didn’t ask her to drive me to my next interview, I got that job.

More on HRM

Ask a recruiter: horror stories from the saddle


From eager mothers hoping to sit in on their children’s job interviews, to job sharing triplets. These recruitment horror stories sure are… interesting.

Ever heard the story about the candidate who asked for every Friday off – to prepare for her “big” weekends? What about the recruit who missed the first day of a new job – because her cat was wedged in her car engine? Then there’s the one who thought the ability to ‘speak Mandarin’ meant the ability to speak to mandarins. 

Believe it or not, these are not tall tales. They’re true ones, straight from the mouths of recruiters that we spoke to for this story.

There’s no such thing as a dull day in the hiring industry. And some days are more interesting than others.

So far in our ‘Ask a Recruiter’ series, we’ve talked about out of the box interview questions  and the surprising mistakes that hiring managers make. In part three, we speak with five recruitment specialists who share their best horror stories – and what they learnt from them. 

  1. The (possibly) accidental swimsuit model 

“Having recruited over 600 professionals, I have seen some outstanding candidates – and some who stand out for the wrong reasons,” says Andrew Sullivan, managing director, Sullivan Consulting. 

“I once received an application from someone who – accidentally or not – included, along with his resume for an executive position, an A4-sized photograph of himself in Speedos. This was before email was the norm, but the same is true today: always check your attachments. 

“I also generally advise against including photos in an application, particularly if they are social snaps showing the candidate with glass in hand … it doesn’t go down well with employers. 

“Neither does turning up to the interview tipsy or boasting about a big weekend … I think the lesson for those two examples is pretty straightforward: just don’t do it.”

  1. Do you have a brother – or maybe two? 

“We once placed a young guy in a temp warehousing admin assignment,” says Naomi Marshall, founder and director, Sprint People. 

“On day two, the employer called to say he felt the temp hadn’t retained a lot of what he’d learnt on day one. On day five, the employer called again, to say the temp had had two great two days, but, on the fifth day, behaved as though it was his first day on the job. It was all very strange.

“It turned out the temp was one of three identical triplets – and they were sharing the role between them! I asked the temp, ‘How do you decide which brother goes to work on which day?’ 

“He said, ‘We send whoever feels like working.’”

  1. The overprotective mother 

“We’ve had more than one candidate bring their mother to the interview,” says Graham Wynn, director, Superior People Recruitment.

“On one occasion, a mother tried to sit in. She said she wanted to make sure her daughter answered the questions properly. 

“I had to tell her, ‘You can’t sit in. Answering the questions is up to your daughter, not up to you!’

“We’ve also had mothers ring up and say, ‘There’s a job advertised on your website. I’d like to put my son forward’. We have to tell them, ‘If your son is interested in the job, he needs to apply. You can’t do it for him.’

“Unfortunately, this is hard to avoid. You can’t exactly ask an applicant not to bring a plus one to the interview!”

  1. Where’d you get that flash car? 

“I once recruited a candidate for an interstate position,” says Stuart Upward, director at Schward Recruit.

“The client called and said, ‘He’s settled in and is doing really well. But, tell me one thing, where did he get that flash car?’

“I said, ‘I don’t know. He said he had his own transport – I don’t usually ask candidates how they get their transport.’

“Over the following two or three months, everything was fine. The candidate was highly skilled and exceeded the client’s expectations.

“But, another two months later, I received a call. It was the candidate – and he was crying. He’d been arrested and put in the local lock-up. 

“The weekend before, he’d written the ‘flash car’ off in an accident, then abandoned it. The police put two and two together and quickly identified the car as stolen. The candidate spent several months in a correctional facility.”

  1. Gone girl

“I placed a candidate with a law firm, who was relocating from interstate,” says a Sydney-based recruiter, who wishes to remain anonymous.

“The client interviewed her three times, including twice via videoconference, then flew her up and, after meeting her in person, offered her the role.

 “Six weeks later she started the job. The firm put her up in a serviced apartment for four weeks, while she looked for a permanent residence.

 “Two weeks elapsed and all was going well – until I received a call from the firm to say the candidate had not come to work and was not answering her phone.

 “A day later, the firm gained access to her serviced apartment, only to find she had disappeared. The phone number was subsequently disconnected. The police later discovered it was registered to someone else. None of us ever found out what happened to her. GONE GIRL.

“Clients should always conduct background checks, to verify that people are who they say they are. Surprisingly, this only happens 60-70 per cent of the time, in my experience.”


You can’t always spot a job sharing identical triplets, but you can stay up to date with the latest recruitment and retention strategies. AHRI’s short course Attracting and retaining talent is designed to help you ace the talent management process.


5
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Jennifer Howe
Guest
Jennifer Howe

My favourite interview story was when I was on the interview panel for an organisation involved in animal welfare.The candidate was asked “How do we know when you are under pressure?” The candidate answered “Oh, I always stay calm at work…. but might kick the dog when I go home.”. Jaws dropped, the candidate realised what’s she’d said, and needless to say didn’t get the job!

Sheila Baker
Guest
Sheila Baker

I just want to tell you about my favourite resume I received during my 8 years as a recruiter – it was written in poetry. It all rhymed. I kick myself to this day that I didn’t keep it. It was a work of art, albeit tongue in cheek.

Linda Norman
Guest
Linda Norman

I interviewed the ‘perfect’ candidate for a NFP fundraising role (surprisingly animal welfare industry again (like Jennifer’s example!). The organisation was delighted that we’d finally found the perfect candidate who had answers for every question and an impressive CV to boot. My reference check unfortunately uncovered that almost everything the candidate claimed was incredibly embellished or a brazen lie. When we confronted her about this, she said she would sue us – but of course she never did! Be vigilant!

Rachel
Guest
Rachel

A favourite of mine was when I was trying to recruit a specilised trade. We had been looking for months with no luck and eventually a recruiter found a candidate. He was qualified with a few years experience. Interview went well and he could start woth a weeks notice. All employees had to undergo drug testing prior to commencement and unfortunately this guy failed. He had about 5 drugs on board with levels indicating long term use. When I rang to inform him of the results, he said “I had a glass of wine the night before, that must have… Read more »

Che
Guest
Che

My mother did the come into my first interview thing, she was insistent because I wouldn’t know what to do, even answering questions before I had a chance to and obviously, I didn’t get the job. Made sure I didn’t ask her to drive me to my next interview, I got that job.

More on HRM