The good, the bad and the ugly: Interview stories from the recruiting game

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At HireKeep, our team has decades of collective experience in sales, hiring, and management. We’ve seen some things, especially when it comes to interviews. Today we’re sharing some of the most entertaining and thought-provoking interview stories we’ve heard from the industry– the good, the bad, and the ugly. Names and certain details have been altered for privacy reasons.

THE GOOD - Self-awareness makes all the difference

Charlie didn’t initially seem to be an A-plus applicant. He had certain sales skills that were strong, and others that weren’t. But Charlie didn’t make this list for his raw talent; what really stood out about him was his self-awareness of his strengths and weaknesses, and his willingness to improve.

Charlie also brought high but attainable goals and valuable new information into the interview. He needed virtually no coaching from us, and earned rave reviews from his interviewer. Charlie exemplifies how the right mindset and values can be just as important to an interviewer as empirical skills.

Don't underestimate the young

Dana was a recent college grad, and looked like it. Along with her appearance came the implication that she lacked experience. However, Dana was prepared to prove this assumption wrong. After being set up with a phone interview, she did her homework.  

Having found and memorized the phone number that the interviewer would call from, Dana picked up the phone and immediately launched into a list of insights about the company. By answering interview questions informatively and creatively, Dana demonstrated competence and cultural fit which won her the job.  

THE BAD - How much talking is too much talking? 

The problem with Ed wasn’t what he said, but how he said it. Specifically, he had an issue of talking too much and saying too little. Ed’s long-winded answers were made worse by the fact that he used a lot of cliches– something about his way of communicating just made the interviewer tune him out.

An even bigger issue with Ed was his unwillingness to change– he had been warned about his wordiness in previous interviews, and would not respond to coaching by streamlining his responses. Ed’s story is a cautionary tale about providing too much detail in an interview. Know the boundary between being informative and rambling on.  

I find your lack of faith disturbing

Zach was applying for a sales position at an exciting “stealth” startup– a company that was experiencing rapid growth, but kept a deliberately low profile. He fared very well in the interview and was offered the job. Then Zach abruptly turned it down, and hasn’t fared well in his job hunt since then. 

What happened? Zach made a bad assumption outside of his area of expertise. After acing the interview, he went home and googled the startup. Zach was so disheartened by their minimal web presence that he concluded that this company was on the brink of failure, and not worth his time. As it turns out, the company was far more stable and successful than Zach’s cursory search implied– which is how stealth startups do business, by definition. His misplaced pessimism cost him a lucrative job.

THE UGLY - When arrogance speaks for itself 

Salespeople are a confident bunch. Needless to say, some of them cross the line into arrogance. Betty was one of those salespeople. Betty’s recruiter ran into issues almost immediately after starting to work with her, as she had a habit of dodging evaluative questions with the phrase “My sales experience speaks for itself.”

After a lot of prodding, the recruiter finally collected some information from Betty and sent her to an interview. It went about as well as the evaluation process. The hiring manager used a scoring metric, and said that Betty had flunked the interview worse than anyone he’d ever seen. A quote from the manager sums it up nicely: “She acts like her shit doesn't stink.”

Nice guys get hired last

One of the most spectacular interview fails we’ve heard around the industry was simply a case of misplaced priorities. Arthur was a promising candidate for a New York startup. He passed his preliminary phone interview with flying colors, and proceeded to the face-to-face meeting. After making introductions, this startup’s hiring manager asked him a traditional opening question– “what value do you provide to your current employer?” This is where things got weird.

Rather than describing his own sales performance, Arthur spoke at length about the acumen and accomplishments of one of his co-workers. As he put it, “[Co-worker] is the best salesman at our office, but I’m the nicest.” Somehow, Arthur thought that his friendliness was worth more than his comparative value as an employee. The sad part is that the company ended up offering the job… to the co-worker.

The HireKeep team has seen our share of outstanding interviews, but we know there are even better stories out there. If you have an entertaining recruitment anecdote about an interview that went extremely well (or poorly), leave it in the comments!