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March 30, 2021

Walk a Mile: These Real-Life Hiring Stories Will Inspire Both HR and Job Candidates to Do Better

Illustration of a man sitting in a giant shoe

All HR pros know hiring is an art—you need to know what to look for, how to read through the lines, and how to spot potential over the rest. 

Yeah. Just that then. 😂

We’re not saying it’s easy—but learning from how others make it work (or not!) is a great step in the right direction. 

That’s why we’ve pulled together this collection of hit-or-miss hiring stories from the front line. 

From knowing how to pinpoint the best interview answers to understanding how to pull off a great candidate welcome (hint: it doesn’t include eating ramen in your PJs), these insightful how-tos (and how-not-tos) shine the light on some of the best hiring practices around. 

Ready to dive into the HR underworld and come out the other side a better recruiter? Let’s do this!

Look for out-of-the-box responses (and roll with them)

Every veteran HR pro knows the best interviews are a two-way conversation, where both parties have to think on their feet. 

One Reddit user has a great story about how their unorthodox answer led to a pretty unusual interview. 

It all started when the hiring manager told them “Look, you're smart, well-spoken and have some great references but you really don't have any experience in this field.” Despite the ropey start, this candidate wasn’t backing down. Instead they responded with: “There’s nothing I don't know… there are only things I haven’t Googled yet.”

Err… what? 🤔

“My answer started a skeptical conversation from the interviewers that then led to an hour-long session of them bringing up different issues and problems they'd run into in the past, as well as everyday situations that come up,” explains the candidate. “Then I would Google their questions and find answers in forums and articles.”

 And it worked. The candidate proved he could do the job (with a little help from Google) and was offered the role on the spot. 

Here’s how you can read through the lines of unexpected candidate responses: 

✅ Be prepared: Every candidate is different—that’s what makes them so special. Be prepared for responses you don’t expect and learn to think on your feet in-interview.

✅ Give candidates space to respond: If you rush through questions, candidates won’t have time to give great answers. Streamline your interview process to make space for interesting answers and let candidates show their true selves.

⛔ Avoid missing out on great candidates: Not every candidate hits legendary interview notes every time. Make sure to focus on potential over confidence so you don’t miss out on great candidates who aren’t so great at interviewing.  

Exorcise ghost candidates

In the world of HR, anything can happen—and ghosts are real too. 

According to Ladders, one hiring manager is still haunted by his ghost candidate.

“I made a job offer to a candidate, then he ghosted me for four days. When he reappeared, he told me he’d been camping and accepted the offer to start in two weeks. 10 days later he contacted me to say he had a doctor appointment on his first scheduled day of work, and also would it be okay for him to leave early every Tuesday and Thursday for the next few months? Needless to say, he did not end up working here.” 

Unfortunately, ghost candidates are all too common. Here’s how to deal with them when they do appear: 

✅ Keep a record of ghosters: Chances are your ghost may reappear down the line. Make sure to keep a record of no-shows to save yourself time and frustration down the line. 

✅ Figure out why you’re being ghosted: There are a ton of reasons candidates go silent on hiring managers. Make sure your hiring process is 100% focused on providing a great candidate experience to minimize the chance of no-shows. 

⛔ Avoid jumping to conclusions: If a candidate hasn’t responded for a couple days, don’t assume they’ve ghosted you. Instead, create a ‘ghosting policy’ that outlines the maximum number of outreach attempts and the number of days to wait for a response. If they haven’t responded to you by then, send them a polite email explaining why you’re moving on.

Spot liars from a mile away

Candidates are expected to brag a little in an interview—how else can they share their strengths? The problem comes when candidates take bragging too far. 

In this Monster article, Chase Anderson, former online operations director at Clicks and Clients, shares his experience of a candidate laying it on thick: 

“Before interview, we ask people to rate themselves on a scale of 1-10 for their abilities with specific software,” says Chase, “We're used to receiving fabricated self-ratings. But on one occasion, we had someone rate themselves a 9. When they came into the interview, they literally had no idea how to even begin to use the software. It's shocking because we're upfront about the testing process and that it's part of the interview.” 

Here’s how to spot a liar and avoid Chase’s hiring horror story: 

✅ Look out for contradictions: Ask them two similar questions—one at the start of the screen and one at the end—to check for inconsistencies. If they’re wildly different, chances are you have a liar on your hands.

✅ Check for detail: It’s easy to paint a false picture with a broad brush, so make sure to ask specific detailed questions to find out if candidates really can do what they claim.

⛔ Avoid rash assumptions: Never accuse a candidate of lying before you have solid evidence. A lot of folks get nervous and make silly mistakes in interviews. If you’re unsure about the candidate’s honesty, probe a little further to make sure they are who they say they are.

Think ‘employer brand’ 100% of the time

With a whopping 78% of candidates saying that overall candidate experience is an indicator of how a company values its people, it’s no surprise employer branding is at the top of most HR pros lists. 

But there’s still the occasional hiring horror story to show HR managers what not to do, like this candidate’s nightmare shared by Glassdoor:

“When I got called in for an interview at a local law firm, I knew something was off as soon as I got to the building—the first floor was completely derelict and abandoned. I followed a trail of paper signs up to their third-floor office, where there was no one at the front desk. I had to ask an employee sitting at a desk who I should notify that I had arrived,” explains the perplexed candidate. 

And it gets worse. 

“Eventually, a recruiter invited me into her office, where she was cooking ramen. While tending to her instant noodles, she asked me questions designed for a different position than the one I had applied for. Then a girl in pajamas came in to administer a writing test, which was a sample of the day-to-day work I would be doing. It lasted two hours and was so boring that I nearly got up in the middle of it and left,” they said.

Needless to say, this candidate didn’t take the job when they were offered it—just like the 50% of candidates who say they’ve also turned down a role after a crappy hiring experience. 

Here’s how to avoid this nightmare and remain firmly in the candidate good books: 

✅ Don’t go to work in your pajamas (even when hiring remotely): It’s a no-brainer, right? But there’s more to this one than wearing appropriate clothes. Winning over candidates is all about making a good impression from day one. That means remaining professional and welcoming throughout the hiring process.

✅ Be prepared: Your candidate has probably spent the last few days preparing for their interview—the least you can do is the same. From sharing directions to the office (or Zoom log-in) to having someone there to welcome them, it’s the little things that count towards an awesome candidate experience. 

⛔ Avoid boring assignments: Test projects are a great way to get to know candidates’ strengths—and for them to understand how the company works. Make sure assessments are engaging and a good representation of the role, so you don’t put candidates off at the first hurdle.

Show a lotta R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Candidates work hard to find good work, and they deserve your respect for doing so. 

Unfortunately, not every hiring manager knows what that means, like this story from Elizabeth Horodnyk, Marketing Communications Coordinator at Eclipse Automation.

Elizabeth’s interview was going great until the topic of compensation came up. 

“Prior to the interview I had noted via email what my rate of pay was, but the interviewer thought he could haggle with me for $10,000 less once he met me in person,” she says. “When I wouldn't budge, it became awkward after he called me inflexible and lectured me about the way the world works. After still maintaining my ground, he asked if I would work on a contract, part-time or commission-based, to which I said no. As I was leaving he had the audacity to ask me where he should send out ads for internships.”

If that’s not cringeworthy hiring, we don’t know what is. 😬

Here’s how to avoid being that hiring manager: 

✅ Be transparent about pay: The best way to avoid embarrassing negotiations is to be open about pay from day one. If candidates know what you’re offering before they apply, they can make their decisions with minimal time wasted.

✅ Offer room for improvement: As well as setting your starting point for compensation, make sure to create a clear timeline for growth too. That could be based on a bonus scheme or set at certain milestones.  

⛔ Avoid being disrespectful: Even if you’re transparent about pay, you might still get candidates trying their luck with compensation negotiations. Show them you take them seriously—but if you can’t meet them where they are, respectfully suggest this may not be the role for them.

Hire like a pro every time

Hiring is a pro’s game—but even the pros get it wrong sometimes. 

From messing up pay negotiations to dealing with ghost candidates, hiring is a minefield for the best of us (and can be all-out war for some). 

The best way to pave a peaceful route is to create a stand-out hiring process and focus on great candidate experience from day one. 

And if you’re still unsure, remember to check in again with the hiring veterans who made mistakes—and learned from them—so you don’t have to.