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This Week: Top 10 Hiring Stories
Man, the hiring process is weird.
Is there anything more awkward than the strange rituals we go through as candidates and recruiters? The personas we carefully craft to seem “genuine”? The “passions” we cultivate to prove our “authenticity”? The scripted interviews that we all pretend aren’t scripted at all?
But look on the bright side: Because the hiring process is so odd, it occasionally produces some wonderfully strange, raucously funny, and oddly poignant moments. This week, we’ve decided to use our top 10 as a salute to the moments when the hiring process veers off course into unexpected territories. We reached out to our friends, colleagues, readers, and writers to gather their best hiring stories. Here are our ten favorites from the bunch:
1. The Name-Dropper
I was handling the hiring of a new employee for our digital marketing agency. The prospective employee was talking a very big game about who he “knew.” He mentioned some very big-time players in the industry and acted like he was best friends with them.
Coincidentally, one of those people was in our office – so we brought him in. What happened afterwards was hysterical. The bull—t unravelled so quickly, and the employee walked himself out, looking at the ground out of shame.
— Max Soni, Qumana
2. Cleanliness Is Next to Jobliness
I went into a construction trailer one day to look for a job. Right when I walked in, the superintendent threw a piece of trash and missed the can. I picked it up, placed it in the can, and asked for work. Come to find out that he gave my name to another owner who hired me just because of that piece of trash.
I worked for him for ten years. Now, I have my own company.
— Ken Beckstead, Cigarette Pollution Services
3. A Little Too Personal
The most unbelievable story we’ve ever lived was when we hiring for a software engineer. Our candidate, whose resume looked fantastic, was called in for an interview. It was a decision we’d live to regret.
Like many interviews, this one was ho-hum. The candidate had the skills, but something about him felt off. He obfuscated his job history with unrelated stories, he seemed constantly distracted, and he was visibly irritated with our questions.
Sensing we were not interested, he asked to review his portfolio with us before leaving. Before we could say no (or wonder why a software engineer had a paper portfolio), he pulled out a worn manila folder and walked us through his life – starting with his birth certificate!
After proving that he was, in fact, born, he showed us his kindergarten graduation certificate, 1st-grade art awards, and every finger painting he had ever saved through 5th grade.
Needless to say, we didn’t hire him. And while he continued to try to connect with us on social media, we continued to decline his requests. He finally sent a LinkedIn death threat, at which point I blocked him for good.
— Michael Mehlberg, Modern da Vinci
4. Quite an Impression
I was in Manhattan in 2007, and our parent company was bringing in a high-level candidate for a performance marketing position. I wasn’t the person performing the first interview, but I was going to get a chance to speak to the candidate. As he was being led in to the particular office in which the interview was taking place, I happened to be standing in the area with a coworker.
I was quickly introduced, and as the candidate was walking in, he didn’t realize that the there was a window next to the door the same shape as the door. I’m guessing he thought it was a big doorway, and he walked directly into the glass. It was so bad that he put a giant face print on the glass.
As you can imagine, the sweat came pouring out.
He ended up getting hired, and was a huge asset to the team. That said, we circled the face print on the glass so the cleaning staff wouldn’t wipe it off, and it lasted for a good six months.
— Bill Fish, ReputationManagement.com
5. Super Secret Advertising
We once advertised a Web developer position exclusively within the source code of our website. Needless to say, we didn’t receive many applicants – but we did receive a few. The best thing about advertising this way was that we only attracted those Web developers who already had curiosity – after all, they went so far as to open up the source code of the page. We actually got a hire through this method.
— Joe Flanagan, VelvetJobs
6. It Wasn’t My Fault
This is one of our best hiring stories as of late. We’ve removed all the identifying data from this actual email we received:
“Hi – I last contacted you on 2/20/2014 seeking work. Normally, someone of my experience and skill set would be employed immediately. I would like to disclose the reason I am still on the market to prevent wasting anybody’s time. I am a convicted felon in California, Georgia, and in Federal Courts. I am the victim in each case. My non-violent felony pseudo-crimes include escape, tax evasion, and resisting an executive officer. My actions in each case were justified by failures of individuals who represent the justice system. In each case, I did the right thing and was maliciously prosecuted.
Let my recent and past work speak for itself.”
— Marilyn Weinstein, Vivo
7. You Can’t Take It With You
The strangest interview I can remember happened a number of years ago in Santa Barbara. I was discussing a job opening with a possible candidate, and she’d only eaten about half of her spaghetti while going on a great length about the shortcomings of her current employer.
Once the food was cold, she asked the waiter for a doggy bag, and he brought a styrofoam takeout container and a good-sized paper bag. While we waited for the check and continued talking, she emptied the spaghetti into the container. Then she took a half-eaten piece of bread off her bread plate and put it in on top.
She pointed to the three pieces of bread remaining in the bread basket and asked, “Are you going to eat any of that?” When I said no, one more piece of bread went into the container. She closed the container, slide it into the paper bag, and then tossed in the other two pieces of bread.
As the check came and I gave the waiter my credit card, she was fingering one of the sealed bags of tea in the selection of little packets that had come with the tea she’d ordered. She shrugged, then picked it up and put it into the bag.
“Oh, what the heck,” she said and dumped the whole basket of teas into the bag. She grabbed a few packets of sweetener and put them in. As the conversation continued, a few more went in, then a few more, until all the sweeteners were gone.
The waiter returned with the credit card slip. I signed it, and as I usually do, left the tip in cash, and the woman and I got up to leave.
After a few steps, she said, “Oh, just a minute,” and went back to the table.
Her back was to me, so I couldn’t see what she was doing. But when she moved back toward me, I have to say I examined the table pretty closely. I really thought she might have picked up the tip. She hadn’t – but, unbelievably, both the salt and pepper shakers were gone. The only condiment left on the table was a half-filled bottle of olive oil, which probably only survived because it had an open spout rather than a cap.
I didn’t offer her the job.
— Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates
8. Google Me
As a job seeker looking to move into a larger agency role in pay-per-click advertising, I created a Google AdWords campaign to demonstrate my skill set. With a small amount of research, I was able to geofence each agency office that I was interested in working at. Then I placed search ads on any searches originating from the agencies’ offices during business hours, which included bids on the agency names, C-level employees, and the hiring manager’s name when it was available.
When clicked, each ad led to a landing page targeted to the agency designed to emulate a true lead-generation page with a value proposition, supporting copy, testimonials, and a lead form allowing the agency to schedule an interview with me. In less than one week, I had caught the attention of the agency I’m now happily employed with.
— Dallas McLaughlin, The James Agency
9. Autocorrect Is Not Your Friend
An applicant came in for an interview, and the interview was pretty typical. After she left, she sent a message: “Thank you for meeting with me today. As mentioned in the interview, I have strong people skills. In my previous job, I copulated with many staff members on a daily basis to take the company to the next level.”
Yeah, she meant to say “cooperated.”
As soon as she sent the message, she called and explained the situation. We hired her because we felt she was qualified, and a mishap like this should not affect her chances.
— Jesse Harrison, Zeus Legal Funding
10. Meet Your New Tech Chef
During the peak of the dot-com boom, I was looking for a key member of my team who needed to have a strong background in customer service. I got literally hundreds of resumes. I picked my top 10 to bring in for interviews. My boss agreed with nine of them, who all had traditional customer service/tech/startup backgrounds, but he could not understand why the 10th one was even being interviewed – because she worked as a chef and did tech-type work on the side.
I explained to him that working in successful restaurants (and she had worked at all the best ones) required a tremendous sense of customer service and she clearly had the tech skills, too. Plus, she studied in Italy in college and spoke Italian (I did too), so I thought she would be cool and fun to work with. I just had a feeling she was going to be the best, and after talking to her, I knew I had struck gold.
I asked my boss to chat with her before she left that day, and he agreed she was perfect for the job. She was the anchor of my team, and my boss marveled at my ability to pick her out of the pile – truly a needle in the haystack. She is still one of my closest friends today, more than a decade later.
Just goes to show that some of that stuff on the bottom of your resume really matters!
— Paige Arnof-Fenn, Mavens & Moguls