I’m sorry I can’t possibly hire you – and other interview horror stories

If you read this column often, you know that I meet a lot of people. I interview, on average, 2-3 people per week. It’s part of our corporate culture. “Always know where your next great hire will come from,” is a mantra we all follow. I meet people who are coming out of school months before they graduate. I meet people who are running agencies. I meet people when I don’t ‘currently’ have a position for them. I meet people because I’ve heard good things about them.

But when you meet so many people, there are bound to be a few horror stories.

Here are a few.

You Created THAT?  I met someone recently. I had heard amazing things about him. Great with people. Great mentor. Really great work. The entire package. Then we started talking about work. He proudly mentioned a campaign that his agency created.  He told me that he was the driving force behind the idea and how hard we worked keeping it alive through multiple rounds of testing and client comments. The issue. I hate the campaign. In fact, in a recent speech, I used this campaign as an example of ‘old fashioned bad healthcare advertising.’ I think it’s one of the worst campaigns created in the last 5 years. And the worst part, he knew I hated it the second he mentioned it. My poker face betrayed me. He asked, “You don’t like it, do you?” I decided to tell him the truth. “Actually, I hate it. It feels dated and wouldn’t get approved to take to the client if you worked here.” As he tried to defend the campaign, I knew I could never work with this guy. Great guy. Not on my team.

Just come in from the bar? I remember being 25-years-old. I remember going out and having a few drinks with friends in smoke filled bars. I remember getting home so late that I decided not to go to sleep before going to work. But I never did that the night before an interview. This guy comes into my office. Clearly hadn’t slept. Clearly hadn’t showered. Was wearing whatever was on the floor and close to his bed. He smelled like beer.  No resume. No portfolio. No business card. Instead of my usual line of questioning, I decided to go for the quick exit. My first question: “Do you have any questions about us?” His answer: “Not really, everyone has already told me a lot about you guys.” I came back, “And you think this is a place for you?” He had the perfect answer, “I’m still not sure.” I stood up, held out my hand “Thanks for coming in, I’m not sure either.”  With that, he picked up his cat hair covered sweater off my sofa, and walked out. Never to be heard from again.

Could your skirt be any shorter?  I tell this to every female college senior I meet – don’t wear skirts that are too short on job interviews. It makes you uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable because I can tell you’re uncomfortable. I recently met a junior art director for an interview and she made the biggest mistake of wearing something completely inappropriate for an interview. Way too low. Way too short. And way too dressy for an agency interview. It was something I’d expect someone to wear to a dressy school social. For the next 30 minutes, all she did was fuss with her dress. And the pity, she had incredible talent. We may still offer her an internship in the spring or summer. Maybe she’ll learn on the job.  But she’s certainly not ready for prime time.

Are you always this boring? The biggest faux pas you can make is being downright boring. I shouldn’t have to struggle to have a 30-minute conversation with you. And lets face it; this should be the easiest conversation ever. You’re talking about yourself. You’re talking about your work. You’re talking about things your passionate about. But just last week, I met someone who almost put me to sleep. One-word answers. I would ask questions about his work, and this guy actually said, “I think its self explanatory.” Really? That’s your answer. It must not be self explanatory, since I had a question. Perhaps you should rethink that response.  Next question “Why are you thinking of leaving your current agency now?” His response, “I don’t know, you HR lady called.” Now that was at least a full sentence. “I see from your resume that you worked in Brazil, what was that like?” “Hot” OK, let me try a different way in. “I see you went to the SVA in New York, did you like it there?” “Yea.”  That was the end of the interview. I stood up, shook his hand. Said “bye.” If you’re going to be a part of my team, there’s one thing that you can’t be – and that’s boring.

Bad work. Beer guy. Skirt girl. And boring me to sleep.  Yup, another interesting week at the office.




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