It sounds downright nightmarish: Candidates arriving absurdly late to job interviews clad in inappropriate clothes and unsure of the company’s name or which job is on offer. Sometimes they can’t stop texting upon arrival.
Welcome to real-life interview horror shows, the bane of hiring managers and recruiters across the nation. Your mission: to never star in such frighteningly unprofessional scenarios.
What may be even scarier about job interview horror stories is the number of clueless culprits doubling as candidates, say recruiters and career coaches. Whether poorly prepared, entitled, lecherous or dangerous, these hair-raising applicants all need a remedial class in professional decorum. Throw in a course for common sense, too.
Alarming interviews with not-ready-for-prime-time candidates are seared in the mind, says Jeffrey Weinstock, president & CEO at R&W Group, a full service staffing and consulting company. One unforgettable incident occurred 10 years ago when Weinstock was with a prior agency. He did a phone screen of an IT candidate.
“He was a very nice guy with solid experience, but he had a recent two-year gap on his resume. When I asked him about that he said, ‘You don’t want to ask that question.’ I said, ‘Yes, I do need to know that. He said he had been in jail for committing a felony. We did not work with him.”
But Weinstock did put him in contact with an agency that could.
Learning from mistakes
Still, even a shocking interview can become a teachable lesson if the candidate is willing to learn from his or her errors, says Kendall Brennan, a recruiter and marketing manager at R&W Group. She recalled an impressive candidate who was sent to interview with a client on his birthday.
The recruiter had “thoroughly prepped him prior to the interview and walked him through all appropriate interview etiquette. After mentioning it was his birthday during the interview, the client asked our candidate if he was going to celebrate. The candidate responded by telling the client that after the 11 A.M. interview was finished, he was going to meet some of his friends and get drunk. He did not get the job. The recruiter circled back around with the candidate afterwards to discuss with him why this is not behavior he would want to repeat in any future interviews in his career and how it hurt his job prospects,” Brennan says.
The candidate, a recent college graduate, was receptive to the feedback and it was a good learning experience for him, she says.
Terrifying lack of preparation
The attitude of many job candidates is chilling, says Carlota Zimmerman, a career strategist. “I am a very focused Type-A kind of coach, so for me, an interview horror story is when I hear friends say, ‘Oh, I’m just going to go into the interview and see what they can offer me.’ Hmm. Note to self. You mean, besides a paycheck, hopefully health insurance, and someplace to go in the mornings? That utter lack of personal responsibility, the idea that it’s somehow up to an employer to give you direction as to how you can best serve the company, is truly horrifying to me…and, in my opinion, a major reason so many are so desperately unhappy in their careers.”
Zimmerman recalled a story shared by a friend, who was a senior vice president at Children’s Television Workshop. He interviewed a young woman in his office whose behavior defied common sense. “Not only did she not bring her resume, she said it was somewhere on her phone, the phone she refused to put down during the entire conversation. She also spent the time texting furiously. She never made eye contact or shook hands with my friend. When he finally gave up, and quickly, yet gently, brought the interview to a halt, the young woman assumed it was because she had the job. Not so much.”
Another friend, a lawyer “at a very white-shoe firm, was interviewing a first year law student, and not only was she clearly not prepared, it soon became apparent that she wasn’t even sure if her interviewer—my friend—was a lawyer. Spoiler alert: Not only was he an attorney, he was a senior partner! He graciously informed her of that, and she, understanding the depth of her faux pas, burst into tears and ran, sobbing, out of the office,” Zimmerman says.
Job interviews require preparation, focus, a healthy attitude and professional etiquette. Take heed so the next time you head into an interview you will avoid making the wrong lasting impression. Your performance should produce compliments, and never goose bumps.
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