Hiring Horror Stories: Abominable Interviews



Following on from our applicant-focused part one, as the witching hour rapidly approaches we invite you to once again come and hide behind the sofa and tell some more terrifying tales of hiring practices gone wrong.

In our second instalment, we're switching the perspective and taking a hard look at the most intense, irritating or down-right abominable interview processes that some of our applicants have had the absolute misfortune of coming across during their past job hunts.

Whilst we work closely with all hiring managers involved in our own roles to ensure the process is beneficial for both parties, thereby avoiding these kinds of nightmares, beyond our borders the world of hiring can be a scary and unregulated place.

Rogue questions, overly aggressive interviewers, outright bizarre hiring requirements – there's a lot that can go badly wrong and cast your company in a bad light.

Job seekers are used to being the ones having to prove themselves, but you can't forget that everyone in an interview needs to be on their best behaviour. The last thing you want is for that perfect applicant to *gasp* reject your carefully planned job interview, so you need to make damn sure that you do everything in your power to make that role look as sexy and appealing as possible.

In the run up to Halloween, we've been asking potential applicants to give us an insight into the hiring nightmares they've found themselves unwitting participants in, and boy oh boy do we have some ghastly stories to share as a result.

Applicant Hiring Nightmares

--- Devil emoji ---

"I was interested in learning React to update my skill set and saw an opportunity advertising exactly that. I was clear over the phone that I had good experience with JavaScript and other frameworks, but would need support learning React.

However, at my interview there was no mention of training and, instead, a real focus on their short release process. My questions on support structures were poorly answered, so whilst I liked the look of the job I had zero confidence that the company would support or train me. I don't need a work environment filled with stress and don't want an employer that doesn't care, so I turned them down."

--- Skull emoji ---

"I was living in mainland Europe at the time, but a role came up in London that looked perfect. I applied, made it through three rounds on the phone and remote before eventually making it into a final stage face-to-face. As the role had me hooked I flew over to meet the team at my own expense, had a great time and left feeling positive. However, I landed back at home to a message saying that the company wanted to see me again and would like me to return for another meeting... again, at my own expense!

They gave no real validation as to why it had to be face-to-face, nor what it would involve, and refused to meet me halfway on cost or medium. It would have been a stretch to afford in the first place, but that lack of empathy turned me off the company so I declined the follow-up and walked away, months wasted."

--- Screaming face emoji ---

"I've had a horrifying phone interview! The hiring manager was incredibly blunt and just fired off round after round of basic questions (what's this? what's that? have you heard of x?) without any feedback or rapport.

The whole process felt more like an interrogation – and it had been billed as a quick 'get to know you' chat! Very old school style, felt like they were trying to be intimidating, but just made the company seem outdated – no thanks!"

--- Spider emoji ---

"I'd just moved to London and was looking for a role at a start-up, as it felt like the right move. One job popped up for an interesting looking company, I applied and got a had two phone interviews, one with the Lead Dev and another with the CEO.

The first interview went well enough and I felt like the team could be a good fit, but was a little worried about product direction and how clear their roadmap was. The CEO only backed that fear up!

He asked a lot of very wordy questions and clearly had a good technical knowledge, but when I tried to press him on his vision for the product he couldn't give clear answers. Basic questions, like how they were going to monetise once they left beta, had vague, waffley responses! Honestly, I know the company had good external backing and investment, but I have no idea why when the main spokesman seemed to lack any clarity on their own direction.

I left that call with zero confidence in their ability as a company and subsequently declined to continue the follow-up technical test. I still think it's a great product, but it needs clearer direction from the top!"

--- Ghost emoji ---

"To be honest, one of the most irritating parts of any hiring process is a technical test. I don't mind doing them, but if you're making me spend my own time to complete them the least you could do is provide some feedback.

It doesn't seem to matter if you're successful or not, almost no interview process I've been through with a test has ever talked about after it was submitted! A company that shows that little care with other people, or sticks that blindly to process without any need, is probably not somewhere I want to work."

--- Pumpkin with scary face emoji ---

"My experience interviewing for senior-level development roles has been a generally unenjoyable one, though the worst was a meeting with a CTO. It didn't take long to get the impression that he didn't really care about his employees or their well being, which didn't sit well with me anyway.

Then, near the end of the interview, I asked about team moral and his response was that he didn't mind how people felt, he – in his own words – 'just wanted the job done'. That was a hard pass; who wants to work in that kind of environment!"

How To Give An Impeccable Interview, Not An Irksome One!

Terrified to your very core? You should be! All of the above anecdotes are real stories sourced from applicants that we've, collectively, spoken to, and none of them are good.

But don't let the fear win! Instead, follow these simple tips to ensure that your hiring process is a hit, not a horrifying miss.

  1. Treat the Interviewee like a Human

It sounds awful to say, but when the pressure is on to fill a role and you've spent all day trying to find some meaningful difference between 100 CVs with comparable skill sets, you can forget that the person sat opposite you is just that: a person.

A little bit of kindness and empathy can go a long way, not just in settling a nervous applicant, but in making a positive impression. Before you start an interview, take a step back, remind yourself why you liked this person enough to meet them and then go in with a big smile and an open mind.

During the interview, give them the benefit of the doubt. If they say something that's wrong, don't get angry and don't be blunt, just politely explain what the right answer is. Sometimes, they may have just misunderstood, but making someone defensive or feel stupid won't lead to a beneficial interview.

Similarly, if they're struggling to answer a question, don't simply repeat it or move on. It might just be that you've used a term in a way they're unfamiliar with, or phrased the question in a confusing manner (particularly if they're a non-native speaker). Try rephrasing the question or even leading the applicant towards an answer. As simple a thing as a prompt can be sufficient to help someone understand what you're getting at or help unstick a frozen brain – what I like to call "tip of the tongue syndrome"!

  1. Start by Setting the Tone

Let's face it, job interviews are nerve wracking. No matter how confident you are, the only reason you won't be feeling a little shaken as you step through that door is if you don't care about the role. A visibly nervous applicant isn't a sign of weakness; it's a sign that they actually care!

For most people, those nerves will come from a place of anticipation. Weeks, probably months, of effort job hunting will have gone in to getting this one shot with you, creating a lot of potential for pressure to build up. You can help reduce that stress very quickly by removing elements of uncertainty and creating a smooth hiring process.

Meet the applicant at the door, so they aren't left wondering if they should knock, ring or just walk on in. Greet them politely, by name, introduce yourself and lead them to where the interview will take place. If you need to nip out to get something or offer them a drink, explain what's going on. When you return, sit down, say "Welcome" and outline the process; even if it's just a half hour chat with some questions, say so.

Knowing what they should expect helps calm the nerves and means you'll be getting the best version of that person in interview, which will mean you don't accidentally miss out on a fantastic hire from one poorly setup interaction.

  1. Beware the Robot Interrogator

At the end of the day, an interview is an interrogation, but it shouldn't ever feel like one. You will need to ask a specific sequence of questions and you will need to ensure you get sufficiently clear answers, but just because you're working through a process doesn't mean it needs to be formulaic.

There are few things in the world less appealing than being sat in an unfamiliar environment and having a monotonous, pre-scripted conversation with a stranger.

Don't forget, both parties are being judged during an interview. If you deliver a disinterested and dull set of questions, with no follow-up or room for further discussion, then you're making a very clear statement about the work environment - and it isn't a positive one.

Let the discussion evolve naturally and take cues from the applicant. If they're clearly interested in a specific subject, probe deeper; if they ask a question, answer it and use it to segue back on topic. Taking an interest in an applicant shows that you care and will make it much more likely that they want to work with you if you do offer them the role.

  1. Create a Crib Sheet

It is always worth making sure you're clear on the key points you need to answer during the interview before it begins. It's fantastic if you can just do that from memory, but most people can benefit massively from creating a crib sheet or other interview guide to have in front of them before hand.

You should already have a pretty good idea of the key questions and skills you need to validate in the interview, but putting these down on paper can highlight which are most important. It will also help you map out a logical order - though, as stated above, don't stick to that order rigidly if the conversation is naturally moving in a different direction!

Above all else, creating a common set of questions means that comparing interviewees at a later date is a lot easier. It's a piece of advice we often give hiring managers that we work with:

Headshot of Dan from Talent Point.

"Consistency in interviews allows every interviewer to have a better understanding of what a good answer looks like, can decrease the questions around salary level when you make an offer, and - more importantly - gives the interviewer confidence leaving the interview that the applicant ‘can or can not’ do the job."

Useful, right?

  1. Provide a Professional Process

Don't forget that it isn't just the interview that you'll be judged on, but every step of the process. If you need people to travel or give up their own time, be courteous and understand that your requirements are impacting their lives.

At the end of the process, and at any relevant stage during it, make sure that you provide feedback. Even if the applicant is unsuccessful, taking the time to explain why and letting them know how they did can take the sting out of rejection and leave them with a positive impression.

That goes just as much for practical exercises or tech tests, the results of which can often be automated to return. Again, letting someone see where they went wrong (and right!) helps provide closure and leaves them clear on what happened - just saying that they failed a test or "under performed" is likely to be seen as laziness.

A Monstrous Success

So there you have it, our top five tips on making sure that your hiring process makes the right impression and won't cost you top talent.

As our Head of Learning & Development, and in-house interview guru, Dan Wells puts it:

Headshot of Dan from Talent Point.

"The finger should sometimes be pointed more at the interviewer than the applicant that didn't work out. Maybe, had the interviewer asked better questions, someone else might have been hired and that person might have been a better fit - the kind of person that seems hard to find!"

We hope that these articles have left you a little spooked, but with a solid foundation to move forward. At any rate, from everyone here at Talent Point, have a terrifyingly awesome Halloween!


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