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My 10 Most Memorable Candidate Interview Moments

My 10 Most Memorable Candidate Interview Moments

I was trained from very early on never to ask a candidate a question about a their age, religion, marital status, or whether they might perhaps be suffering from a particular medical condition – despite what I may have be thinking to myself at the time.

But what about if there was a guide out there designed specifically for candidates? One that provided them with a few tips about what not to say during a job interview.

Personally I’ve heard some real ‘doozies’ over the last 20 years so I decided to put together my ‘Top 10’ classic candidate interview moments … those that have remained memorable for all the wrong reasons!

1. This takes ‘too desperate’ to a new level

My candidate had had quite a few roles in her career before she met with me looking for some temp work.

Let’s just say I may have described her as having jumped around a bit.

She told me about her last few (permanent) roles and when I asked her what she was hoping to do in terms of a potential temp assignment, she said, “Oh, Paul, look I’ll do absolutely anything … ‘xcept prostitute m’self”!

2. This one left me struggling for words

I’ve always asked candidates how they would be described by their peers.

I would usually receive clichéd responses along the lines of “a great team player“, or “having a great sense of humour“, or perhaps even “a bit competitive“.

But on this more ‘memorable’ occasion, I certainly wasn’t expecting this one: “I guess they’d probably describe me as the office handle [pause]. Everybody’s had a turn”!

3. The only time I ever felt scared

I was sitting across from a candidate who I was seriously considering representing for a pretty senior role in financial services.

His background was perfect and I knew that culturally he also suited what my client was looking for.

I asked him how he would feel if, for whatever reason, he didn’t get this particular role.

He looked me in the eye, made a pistol shape with his middle finger, index finger and thumb, pointed the ‘pistol’ straight at me and made a gun firing gesture. Then he simply said “So you’d just better make sure I get the job“!

4. Um… thanks for insulting my profession?

It’s never easy to let a candidate down and tell them you won’t be putting them forward as part of your shortlist.

But while Odette seemed like a lovely lady (and she’d told me a few times during the interview what a great mother she was), I knew she wasn’t what my client was after.

I explained to her my reasons for not representing her for that particular role but told her I would certainly keep a look out for other suitable opportunities.

She thanked me but then asked, “What about becoming a recruiter? Surely anyone can just sit there asking questions to job applicants all day. It can’t take too much skill!

5. This candidate probably should have rescheduled

Hong Kong 2006. I was still getting used some some of the cultural nuances and I’d often seen a few of my staff eating congee (a form of rice porridge) when they were unwell.

There was quite a pungent smell in the interview room and I noticed my candidate was eating congee when I walked in. I thought she may have put it aside when the interview commenced but Jessica kept eating.

A few minutes into my questioning, she put the styrofoam bowl of congee down on the table, went quite pale, then a bit green before projectile vomiting right at  … well … me!

6. Mobile phones should be switched off during an interview

Trevor seemed like a great candidate. Articulate, well presented, he had a great CV. I thought I’d found the perfect candidate for my client. But then his mobile phone rang.

As he reached into his pocket, I just assumed he’d fumble around a bit and switch it off.

But instead he took the phone out of his pocket, looked at the caller ID and then asked “Sorry … do you mind if I take this? It’s about another role“! “Sure“, I replied … “You can take it outside if you’d like. But then please don’t bother coming back in“!

7. There is such a thing as overly honest

I spent many years recruiting for roles in call centres. They were typically customer service positions and so one of my standard questions would be “Can you please tell about a time you dealt with an irate customer and how you handled the call“.

This particular candidate had given me an example of when he’d be working in the credit card call centre for one of the big banks. One particular customer had been very irate. When I asked the candidate how he’d responded to the customer, he said “Oh I just told him to shove his Visa Card up his a*$e and hung up“!

8. I didn’t think I was recruiting for Master Chef

What’s been your greatest career related achievement to date?” I would think this particular question is one that is asked by the majority of recruiters or hiring managers during an interview.

I’ll never forget interviewing Olga who had applied for an account management role with a leading ad agency. She asked me if she could have a moment to think about her answer. No problem at all.

She closed her eyes and I could see she was deep in thought. She opened her eyes and (in all seriousness) said “I made a mean chicken kiev for my team’s Melbourne Cup Day lunch last year“!

9. This candidate didn’t make the shortlist

I always asked my candidates if there was anything else I needed to know before bringing the interview to a close. I was recruiting an office manager role for a busy law firm in the city and I thought Belinda was a pretty strong candidate.

But then she answered my question with this: “I won’t start work before 9:00am; I won’t stay back after 5:30; I definitely won’t take any work home or work on the weekend; Oh and I have been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue so I don’t really ‘do’ pressure very well“. I guess she wasn’t such a strong candidate after all.

10. Have I already mentioned that sometimes they’re too desperate?

By the time Joanna registered with me, she’d already met with at least a dozen other recruiters.

Clearly she didn’t believe in working with one recruiter exclusively! She’d been put forward for a few opportunities but hadn’t been successful in getting a job. I asked her why she felt things had’t quite gone according to plan.

She just burst into tears and said “I know I’m probably coming across too desperate. The last recruiter I registered with accused me of looking so desperate that even Brad and Angelina wouldn’t adopt me!

Sometimes I just wished I could have pushed a button during an interview if a candidate said something stupid, and they would have just been ejected from the room without any need for further explanation. The minute a candidate would say something completely inappropriate … BAM! The interview would be over.

Come on all you recruiters out there! We’ve all got our ‘classic interview moments’ … why not share a few of your own!

Cofounder at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for 20 years. Follow me @paul_slezak.

  • Phillip Poynton

    Ha ha ha! These stories just reminded me of a few of my experiences. One of my most memorable experiences was when I was recruiting for a sales position. A young man arrives 15 minutes late for his interview, dressed as if he took part in a hip hop video clip (don’t get me wrong – I love hip hop), wearing sunglasses and sharing the smell of a recently smoked joint. ”Have you just smoke a joint?” I asked. ”Yeah, man – it calms me down when I get nervous”? he replied. ”So, are you nervous about this interview?” I asked. Immediately, he responded: ”No, not really, you see I’ve been in sales since I was 13, you know – street sales”. One of the very few times I couldn’t even comment, after realising what he just said, I made it quite clear that neither myself or my client tolerate drug abuse. Got to admit that he had some talent as when he was getting ready to leave, he said: ”Cool man, if you need me to sort you out with anything, call me – you got my digits…” (Gobsmacked)

  • Lars Ekedal

    I’ve had a couple of experiences similar to yours.
    Once I interviewed for some telemarketing roles. We were looking for sales people with a good self-confidence and this kid clearly had an easy going and relaxed style. When I finally asked him why we should hire him and not anyone else, he made a double pistol with his hands, “shot” me with them and said: “because I’m the best!”

    I’ve also had a candidate answer his phone during the interview. It wasn’t about another job, but he didn’t get the one I was interviewing for.

    Finally, I once had an interview with a man applying for a job as a warehouse manager. Suddenly I felt a not so pleasant smell in the room. He was somewhat elderly so maybe he didn’t notice it himself, but clearly he had farted. Lets just say that was not the kind of chemistry I was looking for…

  • Debbie Carr

    Classic Paul!

    I once walked into the interview room and my male candidate looked me up and down and said ‘nice body’…hmm. didn’t bother putting him forward for the senior role I was recruiting for. Another guy once sat across from me and proceeded to tell me that he was being watched by aliens, at the end of the interview he gave me a book he had written which was self-printed. The next day I flicked through it and it was all about how vile he thought women were and full of very sexually explicit text….EEK…I reported that one to the authorities. I was actually terrified to walk in and out of my office for weeks after that.

  • Margaret Buj

    Very funny article, it’s made me laugh out loud! My recent memorable example involved a candidate for Sr. Software Development Engineer role. He kept staring at a female hiring manager who was interviewing him throughout the interview, making her feel uncomfortable, and then spilled water all over his crotch and started drying himself off with a tissue, while not losing any eye contact with her…

  • khan

    Surely anyone can just sit there asking questions to job applicants all day… is simply the best answer ever! truth hurts, I know…

  • Tim S Brady

    Hello Paul, I have had a few jobs that I had worked for for several years, then In the last couple years I have not had a job for more than a year before looking for something that was a better fit for me. In my recent interviews the most common objection Ive had is that I look like a job jumper, even though the jobs before this period I was at for a total of 8 years. I have valid reasons fro leaving these jobs, but have been turned down several times now for jobs that Im well qualified for. This is very frustrating to say the least. Do you have any suggestions on how to overcome this objection?

  • IdnavTn

    I found no humor or useful information in your article. I classify your article as a desperate stab at humor at the expense of others. I’d give you some credit if you included some of your own gaffes. Do the candidates you interview have any expectation of privacy and confidentiality? Do you see this as constructive and helpful? Who is your target audience? Was this meant for fellow recruiters as an “wink” and a laugh, or was it meant to be useful information for candidates that you want to “help”? It seems like a clumsy combination of both.

  • Lee Ching Yan