Mastering the Interview

Interviewing is something of an art in terms of mastering the types of questions being asked and having the appropriate responses. Although coaches like myself prepare our clients to answer questions in a certain way, there are always some issues that arise. Interviewers may ask some bizarre, and in some cases illegal questions, to catch a candidate off guard but interviewees also do some crazy things that leave us all scratching our heads. I inquired of my fellow recruiters (both in-house and executive recruiters) to share with me some of the worst interviews that either they or their clients have experienced.

The Outfit -

  • Although we discuss with candidates how they should dress for an interview, someone always takes a chance so as "to express themselves." One senior executive recruiter told his candidate who was interviewing for a Vice President role that they dressed too casually. Her response: "Oh this is me. I want them to get to know me." He cautioned her that first impressions which includes their outfit can be bolstered with more formal attire. She acknowledged this but still went into the interview with client in similar attire. Although she had solid credentials, she was passed over for others.
  • A major retailer in Manhattan was seeking a Vice President of Human Resources. The company had narrowed their selection to two candidates with impeccable credentials. One candidate for the final interview wore an expensive black pantsuit. One would think there would be no issue but she chose to wear black fishnet knee highs which the client found distasteful so the other candidate got the job.
  • A top tier bank was interviewing for a Director level position and one of my candidates was a lead contender. Although they were impressed with what she had to say and her resume, they were distracted with her standing up three times during the interview to pull her skirt down.


  • Recently I was involved in an executive search assignment for a Chief Financial Officer for an academic institution. My colleague and I both were excited about this one candidate who had corporate experience and was now working at a college. The client was also intrigued by this individual so we thought he would get hired. During the interview, he was asked about a project he had worked on earlier in his career. He replied that they actually completed it in three days so spent the remaining two days drinking. Needless to say, he was not asked back for the final interview phase.
  • I was conducting several senior level attorney searches for one of the largest banks. One candidate told me that he was interested in the job because he would be closer geographically to his mother. No other reason was given for his interest in the position so my client and I both passed on him. One of his colleagues received an offer and the rejected candidate threatened lawsuit because of discrimination. Luckily we reminded him of what he said in regards to why he wanted to be considered and he backed off.

Stuff You Just Can't Make Up; These Incidents Could be Used in a Movie -

  • A fellow executive recruiter described a candidate that was interviewing for a senior level finance position. During the interview, "he dropped the f-bomb and put his feet up on the conference room table."
  • The candidate that name dropped to me throughout the whole interview to try to impress me was bad enough but then at the end he says that he really does not need to interview with us or the hiring manager for the role. "I can just call the guys I know on the board and they will give me the job."
  • For a newly created position, a candidate never let the search committee ask any questions. Instead he came prepared with a handout and spent the whole time telling these interviewers in painful detail about how he would function in this role based on his past experiences. He also misspelled the President's name in the presentation. The only question he had for them was if parking was part of the benefits package.
  • On a Monday morning, I told a candidate that he was no longer being considered because he had been in consulting too long and they wanted someone who had more recent corporate experience. He did not say much and we ended the call. I still had not had my cup of coffee when he calls me back furious. He kept saying that he had several degrees including a PhD and that we were wrong about his candidacy. I tried very diplomatically to say it did not matter and after 20 minutes wanted to hang up on him. He ended the call saying he was "watching us and will be interested to see which "unqualified" person gets the job."
  • There are other stories of candidates who did not take the news well that they were no longer being considered. One of my colleagues early in my career actually had to have her client call building security because the irate candidate wanted to hear "in person" what skills they lacked and other candidates had.

As recruiters and hiring managers, our role is to screen candidates not only on their hard skills but also on their soft skills, including leadership and management capability and communication style. It always surprises me when candidates think they know better and do as they please. Granted there are interviewers who make similar faux pas (i.e. ask a candidate to tell them a dirty joke) but I wish we could not be so diplomatic and instead tell these candidates to either keep their mouth shut and/or don't do stupid things. Maybe we need to collectively make a movie to show other examples of this but would we be able to show it worldwide or would it be too scandalous?

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