The Candidate’s Worst Enemy

What happens when you open your mouth to say the wrong thing at the right time? Recruiters try to clean up after some real-life disasters.

It happens most often in the interview. You trip, you slip, you say something you didn’t mean, or you did, but you should know better. It can happen in your resume or during a salary negotiation. You might be your own worst enemy.

Seasoned recruiters shared the tales of some wayward candidates who did themselves and their recruiters a disservice — reaching the finals stages of a job candidacy only to fumble at the end. Let these examples serve as a lesson of what not to do during your job search.

From His Mouth to the CFO’s Ears

“I had a candidate interview for a controller’s role at a large industrial piping fabrication business. The nature of their business is messy, large yards of steel, dust from metal cutting, welding, a gravel storage yard,” said Monty Cash, senior search consultant at Find Great People International, an executive search, outplacement and consulting firm with offices in Greenville and Columbia, S.C. “The lobby of the business is pretty spartan, nothing fancy. Basically, kind of a construction site type of environment, and the receptionist continually fought a losing battle trying to keep appearances up.

“The candidate, while waiting for his scheduled interview, made some disparaging remarks about the condition of the lobby to the receptionist, who was a little offended but said nothing. Later, she mentioned the comments to the CFO. When the CFO called me, he said regardless of technical qualifications, the candidate shot himself in the foot due to lack of respect for the receptionist and lack of judgment in making the comments in the first place. He was dead in the water before he sat down for the first interview.”

Make Yourself Comfortable — but Not That Comfortable

“I had a very senior, very experienced candidate interview for a high-level role at a prestigious — but very laid-back and casual — design firm,” said Lynn Hazan, president and CEO at Lynn Hazan & Associates, an executive search firm in Chicago. “At a certain point in the interview, this candidate took her shoes off and put her feet up on the chair next to her. I suppose she felt extremely comfortable in that environment?!”

Trust, but Verify

“My third placement was too good to be true,” said Jan Nickerson, senior search consultant with Find Great People International. “The candidate was an MBA and certified internal auditor (CIA) with 10 years of internal audit experience. She was accomplished, spoke well, was local, could start immediately and had great references. The Fortune 500 client couldn’t wait for her to start. She received an offer after two interviews and started that week! The problem? She really was too good to be true.

“Our degree verification process revealed that she had attended graduate business school but never received her degree. She attempted to claim that it was [our search firm] that had misrepresented her education, but that claim was easily debunked by forwarding her original resume to our client.

“In addition, she was not actually a CIA, but had attended a one-day seminar with the same initials, and therefore felt that justified putting the credentials on her resume … For the next three years, I verified the degrees and certifications of every candidate before I submitted them. And I continue to verify all degrees and certifications, required for the job or not, before final interviews.”

When in Rome … or Tokyo

“Years ago, I negotiated a package (worth nearly a half-million U.S. dollars) for a candidate in Tokyo … This process took weeks,” said Kevin Collins, director of financial recruiting for Koren Rogers executive search, based in White Plains, N.Y. “The package included nearly everything anyone could want.

“The candidate needed to spend very little out of his own pocket and most of his salary would go in the bank. After all was said and done, the candidate came back to me and asked if his tennis court time was included in his … package, so back to the phone I go to call the hiring manager with this embarrassing question. I asked him about the tennis time and his response was, ‘If I see a tennis racket in his office, I will break it off in his behind. What kind of a pig is he?’ Thank God, the candidate was still hired.”