Hiring Horror Stories: Awful Applicants



I think every single person that has ever been involved in filling a role has had some moments that left them either incredulous or in despair. Well, given that Halloween is almost upon us, we thought we'd take look at some of the true hiring nightmares that we've come across in our days – as well as how to avoid joining that list with some great tips for jobseekers!

Whether acting as a commercial recruiter, part of an in-house hiring department or just as a member of a team helping with interviews, a lot of us have been on the permanent side of the desk, trying to empathise and question (in equal parts) a stream of strangers to determine their potential place in the company or department.

Whilst you always hope for the best from any candidate, most will fall just short of the mark. After all, if it were easy to find that perfect fit the whole hiring industry wouldn't exist! But those aren't the people we're here to, ahem, "celebrate" in this article; nor are we interested in the brilliant Applicants who wound up taking the position, securing the role and fitting into the team like the missing jigsaw piece that you never realised you were even looking for.

No, today we're focusing on the interviews that stand out for all the wrong reasons: the hiring horror shows; the Applicants who turned up for interview and suddenly transformed into slavering monsters; the answers that left you aghast!

Tales From The Talent Point Crypt


Headshot of Ben from Talent Point.

"Three particular instances stand out for me, all equal parts funny and frustrating:

  • One person I spoke with sounded great on the phone, but walked in to the interview eating a pack of cookies...
  • Another colleague of mine had someone who turned up for an interview without a shirt – just a bare chest!
  • Finally, there was someone who applied to join my old company who unexpectedly turned up with their wife, who wanted to sit in on the interview. They'd made no indication that this would be necessary, so we hadn't prepared, and gave no real reason why she needed to be there."

Headshot of Margarita from Talent Point.

"In a Scrum team one of the key requirements is the ability to work collaboratively. One interviewee was asked what he does when someone within the team disagrees with him, to which they answered:

“Well, that’s why I want to have a Lead position, because then I can just tell them to do what I want them to.”

Needless to say that didn't go down too well – #fail"


Headshot of Alan from Talent Point.

"I think the worst instance I've heard of was an applicant who turned up late, without any explanation, then casually dropped a C-bomb in the middle of one of this answers!"


Headshot of Kieran from Talent Point.

"I saw a story online about one Hiring Manager who asked a fairly simple question about the company, just as a casual warm up to get the interview going.

Bafflingly, they initially refused to answer, reasoning that if he was speaking to a client, he’d always ask what their business involved, rather than dare to presume. When the Hiring Manager pushed further, the applicant stumbled and gave a completely inaccurate answer, not even getting the industry right.

Basically, the applicant didn’t do their research, tried to be clever and flip it round on the interviewer, and then promptly fell to bits."

How To Be A Hiring Hero, Not A Horror Story

So we've had a look at some of the most baffling or terrifying responses to an interview process, but how do you make sure you don't join their ranks? If you stick to these five key tips, we're certain you'll only ever come across as an angel, never a devil!

[Oh, and if you're a Talent Point applicant, pay special attention to any TP Tips boxes – we've got tipception just for you, tips within tips!]

  1. Do Your Homework

If you're going for an interview, make sure to research the company and use all available resources to understand their history, products/services and need for the role being advertised.

The simplest way to go about it is to check out their website and social media. A website should give you a good overview of the company, its values and main goals; social media will show you what they're most proud of, as well as potentially including some insight into the work environment.

You can be sure your Hiring Manager will have done more than look at your CV, so make sure you do your due diligence as well!

TP Tip: The Campaign Briefs we provide to Applicants attending interview include a detailed overview of the company and expected duties for the role so, make sure you read it through thoroughly and use it as a springboard for your own research!

  1. Want the Job

It sounds a bit weird to say, but your attitude, demeanour and engagement need to prove that you are as invested in the company as they are in you. If you are clearly passionate about what you do, interested in the role and just a pleasure to get on with, you'll have a much higher chance of landing the role.

Headshot of Murray from Talent Point.

"For those of us that struggle with anxiety or nerves, as I do, this can often seem unfair, but don't stress too much. Hiring Manager's will never mark you down simply for being nervous in an interview, especially if you're clear and explain to them what's going on.

Whilst it might seem more preferable to skip the whole face-to-face bit, there's a very big reason why it's necessary: team fit and personality are hugely important when hiring any role.

After all, if a company could hire based on skills alone, getting a job would just involve passing a test; soft skills require that human interaction, so presenting a positive attitude and putting your best self forward will help massively, no matter how many butterflies are battling around in your stomach at the time."

On top of which, a lot of interviews will involve a question along the lines of: "Tell us why you are interested in working in this position" It's common for a reason and you should always have a prepared and well thought through answer. If you don't, then the interviewer is probably correct in thinking that you may not be the best fit for the position.

  1. Consider Your Answers

On the one hand, it never looks (or feels) great to leave a long gap in an interview after you've been asked a question, but simply blurting out the first thing that comes to mind is never a great strategy either.

Wherever possible, make sure you prepare for common or anticipated questions in advance.

TP Tip: If you're one of our Applicants, that's been made a lot easier for you, as the Campaign Brief will give you a very clear outline of the kind of questions you can expect in the What We Need From You section. Any additional requirements, such as technical tests or whiteboard sections, will also be outlined in your interview process (see Key Dates) – and remember, if you have any questions, feel free to ask us at any time!

  1. Look the Part

There was a time when this meant a suit and tie, but that may no longer be the case. Ask whoever you're liaising with - whether that's the company directly or an agency - what you need to bring and what the dress code is.

In some industries turning up in anything less than a suit will be seen as a sign that you aren't professional or don't care enough, which reflects badly. In other sectors, a full suit may be overkill and make you seem old fashioned, out of touch or even condescending.

Oh, and I can't believe I even need to say this, but make sure you actually wear clothes. Turning up topless or without shoes is unlikely to fit any company's dress code!

  1. Leave the Surprises at Home

Particularly if you're working with a recruiter or hiring agency, make sure that they're aware of exactly what you want. If you tell a recruiter or first-stage interviewer you're happy with £50k p/a, and then demand £60k in the final stage interview, it won't go down well.

Similarly, if you know you'll need to work from home one day a week, or have some other non-standard requirement, bring this up early in the process. No one likes their time being wasted and you won't get favourable terms by waiting out the clock – you'll just annoy the Hiring Manager and potentially get a bad name for yourself in the area/industry.

Alternatively, if you're applying directly, be certain that your CV and covering letter is up-to-date and factual. Lying about your experience might get you through that door, but you'll quickly be found out in interview and then, just as swiftly, ushered back out again!

TP Tip: We're here to make sure our applicants get the best deal possible, so if you have any specific needs let us know ASAP and we'll make sure the interviewer has no reason to be surprised – except by how perfect you are for the role!

Be The Treat, Not The Trick

At the end of the day, if you follow our tips and avoid becoming a nightmare story only discussed after the sun has set, your chances of landing that role will improve substantially. And that's exactly what we want!

As one final piece of encouragement, here's a cracking tale of achievement against the odds:

Headshot of Margarita from Talent Point.

"One particular applicant has always stuck out for the opposite reasons. They were arguably too junior for the role, but their enthusiasm and potential blew us away.

We were honest and told the applicant as much, so they took all our prep very seriously: they not only read the Campaign Brief, but made certain they had a couple of examples prepared for every point in the What We Need From You section.

But they didn't stop there, also researching the company and the interviewers, looking at their profiles and even their LinkedIn post history. Through that, they identified what the interviewer's interests, even watching a keynote presentation that one of the interviewers claimed had a definitive influence on his work approach.

End result? He nailed it, got the job against stiff competition from more experienced individuals and is still happily with the team two years later!"

So get prepared, bring your A-game and #smashit!

But before we go, it would be unfair of us to only target the applicants. After all, an interview is a two-way process, and one party is just as likely to have (or be) an absolute nightmare as the other. We'll be back next week for some ghoulish tales from the other side of the table, taking a look at intimidating interviewers, horrifying hiring practices and terrifying tests that our applicants have encountered in the past.


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