HR Horror Stories – Don’t let them happen to you

Halloween, a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening,” is the one day a year we celebrate the dead, living-dead and everything in between by dressing in costume and taking children to ask strangers for candy. This spooky day is observed in a number of fashions in different countries including Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the Philippines. A similar holiday, Dia De Los Muertos or “Day of the Dead,” is celebrated in Mexico and in other Hispanic cultures to honor the dead. Regardless of the type of celebration, Halloween is a time when individuals can be exposed to some true horrors (the very large man in a very tiny, exposing hula costume; the relentless children trick-or-treating for candy; the stress and money that goes into the perfect costume, etc.)

The Human Resources and recruiting industries are often also exposed to “horrors” during the hiring process, not just on Halloween. So here at InterviewStream, we have decided to take a different approach to commemorate this frightening day. We set out to find some of the most terrifying stories of horrific experiences involving new hires, interviewing, and recruiting, in the hopes that by sharing some of these incidents, we can save hiring managers and candidates alike from facing them again in the future.

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Here’s a story we received from Hiring Consultant, Barry Maher.

This particular bizarre job hunting strategy came from a man who’d heard about an opening for a marketing and PR person and decided to demonstrate his expertise at grabbing people’s attention by going to the charity’s website and finding the names and business contact info for everyone on their board, the people he figured would be making the final decision on the hiring.

He then cut out letters from a newspaper and sent each board member a series of letters.

The first had just his first name “John.”

The second read “John Smith.’

Then “John Smith Is,”

“John Smith Is Going,”

“John Smith Is Going to,”

and “John Smith Is Going to Blow.”

Then apparently thinking he was clever enough to avoid creating a problem message, the next letter added two words rather than one.

It read: “John Smith Is Going to Blow You Away!”

Which is when the police showed up at his door… before he had the chance to send out the next letter with his resume that explained just how his expertise was in fact going to blow everyone away.

If you, as a candidate were thinking about doing anything of this nature to impress a future employer, we highly recommend you put a little more thought into the message your actions will send. Keep in mind that hiring managers are more interested in being impressed by your resume, work experience and interviewing skills, and the “shock factor” may not always be a good thing. For hiring managers and recruiters, make sure to counsel your candidates on expectations during the hiring process and keep channels of communication open, so candidates don’t feel the need to seek out unpredictable ways of gaining attention.

Another story we received is from business owner and certified financial planner Adam Koos, which exemplifies the terrible tragedy of a bad hire.

I hired someone as a financial planner at my office after taking her through our extensive interview process, which includes acceptance of the resume, a pretty long questionnaire/application, a phone interview, and two face-to-face interviews. She had the educational background specific to the field, was energetic, friendly, etc. She was perfect for the job! Or so I thought….

The very first day she came into the office, she started complaining to me about her non-traditional schedule and the fact that she’d taken a pay cut and moved 90 miles to take the job, all things that were understood upon acceptance of the position. She showed up 20-30 minutes late every day her first week. She sat in meetings with our clients slouched in her chair and yawning, visibly paying little attention to the appointment at hand. When being trained one-on-one by me, she took zero notes claiming that

“I learn by doing, not taking notes.”

On one occasion she kept slouching in her chair, holding her head, and after me asking for the second time, “Are you sure you’re okay?” She replied, “I TOLD you… I have a headache.”

I had to leave for a conference the next week and upon my return other staff members said to me, “We were afraid to bother her b/c she pretty much just sat in her office and didn’t talk to us the whole week.” After approaching her about this upon my return, her response was, “I don’t come to work to make friends – I’m here to do my job and go home.”

The Wednesday morning I fired her, it had only been 3 1/2 weeks since she began working with us. This was how the conversation went…

Me: “Since you took this job and moved an hour and a half away to do so, and since your husband is currently unemployed, I’m going to do for you what no other employer would do, just to be nice and help out. I’m going to give you a four week severance just to help bridge the gap between now and when you find a new job.”

EE: “That’s it? Most companies give 2-3 months severance.”

Me: *confused* “Ummm… our policy is one week of severance for every year of service. That would be like half a day in this situation.”

EE: “Oh that sucks…”

That was it… as she walked out of the office and took with her all the office supplies and everything I’d let her buy with a company credit card. The total amount lost was just over $20,000 in the end. It really was a horror story I hope never to repeat.

Yikes! There’s nothing worse than losing the time, energy and money you’ve invested into an employee. Don’t let it happen to you! Be sure to accurately portray the position and fully vet the expectations and ability of the employee BEFORE extending an offer.

Lastly, here’s a short story from Timothy G. Wiedman, D.B.A., PHR Associate Prof. of Management & Human Resources Doane College.

As a former operations manager who has hired several hundred employees, I am often asked to serve on academic search committees. Some years ago, while teaching at a major university, I served on a committee that was hiring a coordinator to manage an off-campus satellite program designed for non-traditional students. Since this program site was almost sixty miles from campus, this coordinator would be the “face” of the university at that location.

One of our interview questions asked candidates how well they understood the pressures facing adult students, who often had many responsibilities beyond the classroom. This was an important issue because these non-traditional students were sometimes difficult to retain.

One candidate talked about his ability to empathize with other people, saying he would try to imagine “walking a mile in their shoes.” At that point, he took off his shoes, climbed onto our conference table, and slowly stomped his feet on the table as he repeated the importance of “walking a mile in their shoes!” This display went on for, perhaps, ten or twelve seconds (although it seemed a lot longer than that to the members of the committee). Then he got down from the table, sat back down in his chair, and put his shoes back on — acting as if nothing unusual had happened! Needless to say, we did not hire that candidate!

While this might be an extreme example of an interview no-no, these types of interviews occur often in a smaller scale. It’s generally a bad idea to be extreme in any respect when it comes to interviewing, as it will likely be the first time you get to make a lasting impression.

At InterviewStream, we hear and experience all kinds of interviewing horror stories, so to help raise awareness of what NOT to do during an interview (and to help avoid any of the disasters mentioned above), we created Scary Interview, an interview so horrifying…

Feel free to share your horror stories as a hiring manager on social media using the hashtag #ScaryInterview, or comment on the post below. 

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