That Time You Made the Impossible Hire (6 Recruiters Share Their Stories)

9 min read

Talent acquisition ain’t for the faint of heart.

Is talent acquisition hard? Yup.

Is it getting harder? Probably.

Is it ever boring? Hell no.

The road to the perfect hire can be rocky to say the least. It takes focus, persistence and the wisdom to know when to laugh.

We asked some of our favorite HR experts to share their most unforgettable hiring stories as a small way to help you keep going when the going gets rough. What you’re about to read is a compilation of high highs and low lows carefully selected from decades of hiring feats and failures.

So sit back and laugh, cry or cringe — it’s all part of the game.

Dodging Bullets

Shanna Landolt is a well-known recruitment expert and LinkedIn jedi. And get this: She’s also authored six (SIX!) books and is a 4x #1 International Best Selling Author.

Need help with your next best-seller? Shanna’s your woman.

Shanna generously shared two of her biggest hiring doozies with us. And though these aren’t about past hires signed and sealed, they’re great reminders of just how full of surprises the TA process can be. 🙈

shanna landolt

Story #1 — “I was interviewing for an Account Manager for a very conservative, pharmaceutical advertising agency. I found a candidate with a lot of media experience who was dying to break into the pharmaceutical industry and this was her big chance. My client agreed to an interview time and the candidate was pumped with excitement about the opportunity.

Then I got the phone call from my client. “Did you Google her?” “Oh No!” I thought… “this isn’t good news”.

My client directed me to a video clip of the candidate in a Big Brother type reality show where she was the “bad girl” in the house. The clip was full of her saying the F*Bomb and other profanity. My client cancelled the interview as he just couldn’t see her fitting in with his conservative pharmaceutical clientele. The candidate was devastated. The reality show had run 5-years prior and a lot of her antics were at the prompting of the producers to make the show interesting. It just goes to show that once things are online they are easy to find and can be detrimental to a job search.”

Story #2 — “Years ago I was recruiting for a Store Manager for a retail hobby and tooling store. I needed someone with a passion for things like carving and woodworking to manage the store. I found the perfect candidate (or so I thought). He was a retired police officer with a passion for woodworking. In his interview, he proudly mentioned that he was a former Olympian in Skeet (the sport that involves shooting guns). Everything went perfectly.

My client was putting together the offer…. then I got the phone call…”Did you see the front page of Saturday’s newspaper?”, my client asked. “No”, I said casually, “Why?” The front page article detailed how my candidate’s home was raided over the weekend and how he had been illegally confiscating guns. Needless to say, he didn’t get the job!”

Greatest Hire on Earth

Our next story comes from THE Tim Sackett. 🙌

With over two decades in game, Tim’s an HR pro who calls it exactly how he sees it. You can read his (sometimes painful, but always necessary) musings over at The Tim Sackett Project or Fistful of Talent.

tim sackett

Here’s Tim on how he one made the greatest hire on earth. 🎪

“My ‘perfect’ hire story involves the circus. Yeah, the real elephant, big top, circus, that shows up in your town for a few days each summer, before packing up the show and moving to the next town.

When I was at Applebees working in HR we were in the process of building out a bunch of new restaurants and I needed some recruiting support. Applebees, at the time, was a huge promote-from-within culture. So, like a lot of companies, we posted the job internally.

I got what you would expect. Some managers who thought it would be easier to work in ‘hr’ then in a restaurant, as well as hourly workers just graduating college, etc. Not one person, who from the resume, I would ever want to hire as a recruiter, and no one who had any experience. I was going to hire someone outside the company, just like I expected.

Before I could do that, I was ‘forced’ to interview one internal candidate an executive kind of twisted my arm to do. One of our female managers who was a high performer in a restaurant. One unique thing about her was she went from high school and joined the circus! Like just up and went on the road for years, working in the circus, before finding her way to an Applebee’s to start her career with us as an hourly, eventually moving her way up into management.

I interviewed her and she had this infectious personality and an I-just-get-stuff-done mentality. But she also had real-world, have you ever tried running and working in the circus, where every few days you had to tear it down, move it, and put it back up, and put on a great show, experience! I mean managing an Applebees can be a circus at lunch and dinner rushes, but she was a bonafide circus person!

I was fascinated but also impressed at how she didn’t try to hide this experience and used it to show she could handle anything. So, I hired her and taught her how to recruit. She is one of the best hires I’ve ever made, and to this day is a talent acquisition leader in the restaurant industry.”

A Tale of Two Offers

Find the diamond in the rough is every recruiter’s dream. On the flipside, finding out your ideal candidate already has an offer in-hand can be your worst nightmare.

Terra Soloski is the Head of Talent at the fast-growing real estate startup, Knock.

terry soloski

As a former external recruiter and independent agent, she’s got plenty of experience to pull from. Still, with plans to launch in 10 new markets by 2020, she’s got A LOT of hiring to do. And real estate isn’t exactly a low-competition industry. Here’s how Terra beat the competition and secured her perfect hire…in seven days flat. 😲

“Recently I had a candidate who had an offer in hand from another real estate company. We were moving very quickly because she was great and we all really believe she was a good fit.

She had five phone interviews and one in-person interview, and I completed all her references, all within 7 days. In the end, I just asked her directly, “With these two offers in hand, where does your heart lie?”.

She said she liked the fact that our Director of Operations asked her about her hobbies and what she likes to do in her free time. She said she knew she would fit into our culture because she would be treated as a person, not just another cog in the machine clocking in every day.

That’s important. People want to feel like they’re a valued part of something bigger. For many candidates, they’re not just evaluating the offer and the compensation, they’re evaluating the culture.”

(Psst. Want to see how Terra manages to stay on top of 100+ job listings? Check this out! 👈)

Recruiting Above Your Weight

Jonah Philips is an employee-turned-entrepreneur who knows exactly what it feels like to walk in the candidate’s shoes. Launching his own business at My Crossword Hobbyist and My Word Search after years in a cut-throat corporate culture, Jonah knew he needed top talent — but couldn’t afford to offer Silicon Valley perks.

Here’s how he ventured outside the recruitment box to secure his ideal candidates. 👊🏽

jonah philips

“I run a very small company, and I was hiring two remote software developers. Software developers are in high demand, and my small company wasn’t positioned to compete with big companies on salary or benefits.

To get to ‘yes’, I focused on selling candidates on what I could offer that bigger companies can’t: a flexible work schedule, no office politics, a high level of autonomy, influence on the technical direction of the company, and the ability to work directly for the CEO instead of a middle manager.

I made sure to highlight these benefits at every single step in the recruiting pipeline, from the job description all the way through to the final interview. When it came time to making job offers, my top two candidates said ‘yes’ on the spot.”

Want Jonah’s best tips for acquiring rockstar talent on a startup budget? Read all about it right here!

The Comeback Candidate

Sharlyn Lauby is an HR triple-threat: Author, speaker and consultant. 👌🏽

Not only is she President of one of the leading HR consulting firms, ITM Group Inc., she’s also a beloved confidant to the HR community due to her fabulous work on HR Bartender — one of the “Top 5 Blogs HR Pros Love to Read”, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (and pretty much everyone who’s ever worked in HR).

sharlyn lauby

Sharlyn’s story reminds us that for awesome talent, the door is never really closed. 💜

“We once interviewed a candidate that we loved for a director position with our organization. When we extended the offer, she turned us down because she had found another job. Obviously, we were disappointed. But we extended the offer to another candidate and he was fantastic in the role.

Meanwhile, I sent the first candidate a congrats card on her new opportunity. A few weeks later, she called me and wanted to meet. During our meeting, she said she made a big mistake not taking our offer. She wanted to know if something else was available. We didn’t have any open job requisitions, but we created a job for her. She stayed with the company for over ten years.

Whenever I think of this story, it reminds me how small the world is and how the smallest actions can have a huge impact on the candidate experience and the value that can bring to our organizations.”

Hirest Form of Flattery

There comes a time in every TA pro’s life when finally — after all the blood, sweat and tears — you take a look around and realize you’re pretty damn good at what you do.

chris russell

Chris Russell is the MD of RecTech Media and “the Mad Scientist of Online Recruiting”. After years in the game, Chris knows one thing for sure: The truest compliments come from candidates.

“I was in an interview once with a Senior Network Engineer I had found at a firm in New York. Contacted him on LinkedIn, conducted the phone screen and established a great rapport. During the interview with our CEO he was asked why he decided to take the interview and talk with us. He replied, “because I want to work with guys like Chris” as he pointed to me. I knew at that moment I had become a great recruiter.”

Ready for your next success story? Find out how Breezy can help!

Related Stories