Job interview horror stories: Four candidates who were too creepy to hire

Halloween is almost here. In the spirit of the spooky season (so to speak), here are a few cautionary true tales of candidates who doomed their own chances of getting hired by being creepy.

The online stalker

My former Vice President of Marketing told me this account of the applicant for a Brand Manager position who did too much research. On paper, the candidate looked good, and he easily passed a phone interview with HR. So, he was invited in to speak with the department head – the Marketing VP.

She looked shaken when I saw her after the interview had concluded. “What happened?” I asked.

“He asked if John and Erika had enjoyed camping on the weekend,” she said. Those were her eight- and ten-year-old children. “He knew what my family was doing and called my kids by name. I need to change all of my social media privacy settings.”

While it’s good to do your research, learn about the company, and even look up your interviewer if you know who you are meeting with, this candidate took it too far. Don’t delve into the employer’s private life or snoop on their family.

The horribly happy

I interviewed a candidate for an editorial position who wouldn’t stop smiling. At first, this seemed like a positive. She was upbeat and cheerful; that came across well. Until it didn’t. We spent nearly an hour together, and this woman didn’t stop beaming once. It wasn’t just a pleasant smile or a warm expression, she maintained a (what eventually seemed forced) full-on grin the whole time.

It creeped me out so much that I started asking tougher questions than I usually do just to see if I could get her to drop the broad smile and adopt a thoughtful expression – or at least look away for a moment. She was also an over-starer. She refused to break eye-contact.

Of course, you should smile warmly, be cheerful, and make good eye contact when meeting potential employers. However, staring without looking away and over-smiling can come across as insane. It’s okay (preferable even) to have more than one facial expression. Employers want to hire a likeable human, not a robot who’s just trying to get through the interview.

To this day, when I see psychos in scary movies who are deliberately trying to intimidate people with their smiley stare, I still think of that candidate that I did not hire.

The eternal talker

Employers aren’t allowed to ask about your personal life. They have to keep their interview questions specifically relevant to your work history, credentials, and potential to do the job they are hiring for. That’s because legally, those are the things that they need to base their hiring decision on. It’s against the law to hire or not hire a person because they are married or not, have kids or not, or other non-work-related personal information.

So, often they’d really rather not know that any of this information. A director of HR I used to work with told me the case of the over-sharing accountant. The interview ran long, well past the allotted hour. When it finally ended, she told me about it over lunch, “I know everything about that woman’s life. She told me that she was adopted, is having trouble at home, has three kids, one of whom has learning difficulties, she used to be vegan, but now she eats fish, she’s allergic to perfumes, and she loves horses.”

“Did she seem like a good accountant?” I asked.

Her expression went blank. “I have no idea.”

Make small talk, build rapport with your potential employer, but keep it professional. Don’t bring up your personal problems or issues that may interfere with your abilities to be a good employee. Leave a positive, professional impression. (If you are going to need special considerations or a flexible schedule, negotiate those into your contract. The interview is about convincing the employer that they want to hire you.)

The fatal follow-up

You should always send a thank-you note after a job interview. It’s just polite to show your appreciation for the employer taking the time to meet with you and discuss your candidacy. Plus, it gives you a chance to reiterate your interest in the role and the key assets you bring to the table. Just keep it professional.

My former boss may or may not have been planning to hire a candidate for our team, but his follow-up cinched the deal (not in his favour.) The day after the interview he sent her a bouquet of flowers with a note that read. “It was great meeting with you yesterday. I’m really looking forward to seeing you again.”

It’s possible that he was just trying to send an original thank-you note in order to stand out, but flowers were a bad call. She found them – and now the candidate – creepy.

See: How to follow up the right way after a job interview

Those are a few of the creepy interview horror stories our team has witnessed. What about you? Have you ever experienced a haunted hiring process or an apocalyptic application? Please share!

Happy Halloween everyone.

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