October 22, 2021

Career AdviceProfessional Development

Hiring Horror Stories

By: AF Editors

In the spirit of Halloween, our team wanted to share our best hiring horror stories with you. Names and identities have been changed to protect the innocent (and the ghoulishly guilty!).

The Candidate Who Ghosted Us

A couple of years ago I was working with a nonprofit who wanted to hire for a senior level opening. We identified an impressive candidate who had worked for one of the most reputable think tanks in the country. He did well in the interviews and the organization made him a great offer. He accepted and they agreed on a start date three weeks out.

Then, like a ghost, he disappeared.

At two weeks before the start date, we were confused but thought maybe he just took a few days off in between jobs. By one week out, we were concerned. We started searching online, thinking maybe Jason Vorhees had visited the candidate. Both the hiring manager and I tried everything we could to reach him: emails, voicemails, texts, and social media messages. Radio silence. By three days out, we finally accepted that he had ghosted us.

To this day, we’ve never heard from the candidate. If the candidate had changed his mind, the right thing to do would have been to just let us know and we could all move on. This probably wasn’t the first or last time the candidate displayed such unprofessional behavior, and no doubt these actions will haunt him throughout his career.

Trick….or Treat?

Near the end of my final semester of college I began looking for my first full-time job where I could leverage my shiny new degree. The opportunity came in the form of a verbal offer to become a low-level government bureaucrat in a neighboring county. Within a few hours of getting the call, I quit my job at a car dealership and made plans to break my apartment lease. About an hour into my final shift at the dealership, I received an email letting me know that the offer had been revoked. I was left jobless and apartment-less.

Many years later, I’m still not sure what led to the rescinded offer, but I learned the very important lesson to not count my chickens before they hatch (although I’m grateful my career ultimately took a very different path) and to always, always wait until you get it in writing. 

Oh, and you can’t trust the government. 

Ghastly Behavior and Horrifying Hurl

Years ago I was at a social gathering with free-market friends when I was introduced to a sharp gentleman. He was a recent college graduate who was in between jobs. I was immediately impressed with how articulate and charismatic he was. And he was brimming with confidence! I wondered how someone so sharp could be unemployed. I told him about the internship program at our organization and invited him to apply. He applied, we put him through the typical hiring process, and next thing you know, he was in our program.

For a while, everyone thought he was terrific. But it didn’t take long for the shine to wear off.  What I had initially seen as confidence turned out to be an extreme case of arrogance. And his articulate and charismatic personality gave way to one that was manipulative and self-serving. Staff members were starting to see his real personality and no one liked it.

The nail in the coffin came when he went to a work function, got completely trashed, and threw up on the shoes of a VIP who worked for one of our allies. I was mortified (though mildly disappointed that I didn’t actually get to see the grand finale…my associates assured me it was a sight to behold!). Thankfully, he quit the program before we could have the satisfaction of asking him to leave.

The lesson for me was two-fold. First, vet the heck out of anyone with heaps of confidence. If they don’t have humility, they will eventually cause you trouble. Second, if someone seems too good to be true, they probably are.

Hiring at the Pace of the Walking Dead

Before Talent Market, I was a career counselor at a law school and it was my job to help students find their first job out of law school, which involved helping them apply for jobs, weigh offers, and ultimately decide where to work. I remember working with a stellar student with great grades, an awesome personality, and basically everything an employer could want. She had applied for her dream job and was waiting to hear back from them after a great interview. For weeks, she waited and waited. Each day that went by without hearing from them, she got sadder and sadder, then she got frustrated, and then she got annoyed. She ended up accepting a job somewhere else.

Time passed. Then, she finally heard from her dream job 8 weeks after she interviewed with them. They wanted to offer her the job. By that point, she didn’t even want to work for them anymore. Taking that long to get in touch with her made her think they were inconsiderate, scattered, and the type of place she wouldn’t want to work.

My key takeaway from this experience is that when an organization is hiring, they need to treat candidates with respect. Leaving candidates to wait, wondering what is going on, even if they aren’t interested in the candidate is bad for their organization. Candidates talk and this type of behavior can impact an organization’s reputation, leading people to think of the organization as either disorganized or inconsiderate, both bad traits. That is why Talent Market is so committed to never leaving our candidates hanging and always keeping them updated no matter what! 

Hey there Pumpkin…I Think You’re in the Wrong Patch

I often conduct first round interviews with candidates. During one particularly memorable call, I asked a candidate to explain why she’d applied to the role. The candidate launched into an impassioned soliloquy on why this position was an ideal fit not only in terms of her skills but also because of how well the organization’s mission aligned with her personal values. It was an incredibly compelling answer… for a different role, at a different organization. 

As gently as possible, I reiterated what role and organization our call pertained to. And while I was willing to cut the candidate some slack, the mistake clearly threw her off for the remainder of the call and she ultimately did not move forward in the hiring process. 

The key takeaway is that when you’re job searching, you’re likely applying (and interviewing!) for many different roles at many different organizations. There’s nothing wrong with that! But it’s absolutely critical to make sure you’ve done your homework and adequately prepared for the (correct) interview. 

Getting Hiring by Dr. Jekyll…or is it Mr. Hyde?

My first job out of college was as a sales rep for a design firm. During the interview process, the president of the firm came across as Mr. Perfect. He was smart, charming, kind, and had plenty to say about his firm’s success and how easy it would be for me to sell its work. I happily accepted the meager salary and had hopes about the big commissions he assured me would come.

Young and eager, I worked my tail off cold-calling, visiting clients, and trying everything under the sun to get a sale. After a few months and very little success, I started questioning my own sanity. Finally, a client with whom I had built a strong relationship pulled me aside to tell me how terrible the president’s reputation (and, by association, the firm’s reputation) was. He shared stories of undelivered results, missed deadlines, lack of follow-through, and jaw-dropping unethical behavior. He gently told me that no amount of work on my part could correct the reputation of the firm and that this was why I hadn’t had more success in my role.

Two hiring lessons have stuck with me since then: 1. Do your homework about an organization before you accept a job there. Had I done more digging, I may have discovered that this man and his firm weren’t as he described. 2. Reputation matters. If you go to work for an organization with a questionable reputation, not only will it make your job infinitely more difficult (whether you’re in fundraising, communication, policy, etc.), but you also risk damaging your own reputation.