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Epic Fails

Giving it the Big’Un: Suffering the Recruitment Job Interview Epic Fails

Giving it the Big’Un: Suffering the Recruitment Job Interview
Who shot JF-Canine?

Quite often it’s not the person being interviewed that should experience the shame and embarrassment of an epic fail. Sometimes the interviewer should be the one hanging their head in shame. Nowhere else is this trend more prominent than in the macho world of recruitment. Jack Collins explains it all…


The big dog

“Recruitment is a dog-eat-dog world. And I’m an effing big dog.” For me, this preposterous phrase epitomises the recruitment job interview. It’s simple. It’s utterly ridiculous. And it should never, ever have been said. More to the point, it should never have been said by a member of the interview panel.

Unfortunately, the man who uttered these immortal words was one of my colleagues. After I graduated, I worked in recruitment for a year. Towards the end of my 12 month recruitment ‘adventure’ (it definitely wasn’t an adventure), a friend of a friend was interviewed for a job with our company. Halfway through the interview, our business development manager apparently leant over to the nervous interviewee and offered these arrogant words of wisdom. Understandably, when the young lad was offered the job, he declined without a moment’s hesitation.

Wait a second though! Not everyone who works in recruitment is a supercilious moron. Far from it! I worked with some very intelligent, astute, charming and sensible people. However, as always, someone has to ruin it for the whole bunch. Yes, I’m talking to you Mr Everything-I-Say-Is-Complete-And-Utter-Tosh. In the words of Bon Jovi: “Darling, you give love [recruitment] a bad name!”

Admittedly, the man who ostensibly believed he was Clifford the Big Red Dog, also happened to be the same stylish chap who once wore what can only be described as a denim tracksuit on ‘Dress-down Friday’. Consequently, you might be excused for thinking that this interview gaff was a one-off, a flash in the pan, a moment of madness from a bizarre human being. Well, I hate to break it to you, but it most definitely was not. During my own quest for a job in recruitment, I came up against some similarly ‘macho’ characters and some equally sickening expressions.

The big stink

One interview I had for a boutique financial recruitment company was particularly off-putting. It was a group interview and six of us were crammed into a small basement room; suited, booted and ready to go. Our host (the managing director) strolled in after leaving us to sweat for ten minutes. He didn’t say “Good morning.” He didn’t welcome us to the office. Oh no! He simply started off by saying: “We are the best, because we’re the best at being the best.” Yep, he sounded like Prince Naseem Hamed mouthing off before a big fight; except rather than somersaulting into the room wearing garish leopard-skin shorts, he waddled in wearing a pink shirt and a sense of self-importance.

The palpable stench of testosterone filled the room, but our charmless interviewer didn’t stop there. He continued, telling us that if we “made the grade”, we would “earn £100,000 in our first year. GUARANTEED.” Hmmm…somewhat optimistic. Finally, before the interview actually started, our interviewer ended his little speech with this little gem: “It doesn’t matter if you’re out all night drinking. As long as you’re here the next day at 8am smashing the phones, then I don’t care.” Brilliant. What a role model, what a leader, what an inspiration!

The big easy

The funny thing is: I absolutely waltzed through this interview (and every other recruitment interview I was given). Not because I was an arrogant knucklehead. Not because I was the illegitimate love-child of the interviewer. Not because they liked the colour of my tie. But because I knew exactly what questions they would ask, and I knew exactly what answer to provide.

The recruitment consultant who got me the interviews gave me a rather detailed brief before each one, explaining what I would be asked, what kind of answers I should give, and how I should act in the interview. Essentially, I was playing a character in some kind of ridiculous farce; learning lines, repeating them at the right moment and adlibbing from time-to-time. My recruitment consultant was the director and I was his leading lady.

Basically, I was told: “Tell them how much money you want to earn in your first year (preferably around £100,000). If you want, you could even tell them the name of an expensive car you want to buy. They’ll lap it up.” Furthermore, I was assured that a sure-fire way to success was to use the three golden recruitment phrases: “resilience, tenacity and building relationships.”

And so I played along. I gave an Oscar-winning performance (N.B. I didn’t actually win an Oscar) and became the candidate that everyone wanted to hire: money-hungry, über-confident and, of course, “resilient, tenacious and able to build relationships.” At one interview, I even fabricated a story about my lifelong dream of buying a boat and providing for my family. Sure, I was living a lie, but I wanted a job. I didn’t really care how much I could earn if I “smashed” the phones day-in day-out, but I did want a salary that would quench my student bank account’s thirst for cash.

The big relief

After my first week of interviews, I had a string of second interviews lined-up. Unfortunately though, I didn’t want to work for any of the companies that had interviewed me. My overwhelming desire not to work in a testosterone-soaked hellhole stopped me from pursuing these opportunities any further. Finally though, I went for an interview with a very well-respected agency. My interviewers were friendly, reassuring and refreshingly honest. When I used the tried and tested phrase, “I want to be earning £100,000 a year,” they actually stopped me and told me that I could realistically expect to earn around £35,000 if I hit my targets. Music to my ears!

I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The interview continued and I was able to answer the questions as myself. Thankfully, they were suitably impressed and I was offered the job. I accepted the position and I finally discovered a side to recruitment that I didn’t know existed; a supportive, friendly and encouraging side, which wasn’t dominated by bravado and hogwash.

If the majority of my interview experiences are anything to go by, then the stereotypes about recruitment consultants are probably justified. However, as I found out, if you shop around, you can dodge the stereotypes and avoid being smothered by the masculine world of bum slapping, “banter” and “giving it the big’un.” Don’t settle for the first job that comes along, especially if your interviewer is a massive, CV-reading Golden Retriever. Find a recruitment consultancy that will support you through the early stages of your career; not one that will chew you up and spit you out when you don’t “do a deal” in your first three months. They do exist and they’re the best places to develop your career in recruitment.

Image courtesy of Jim Winstead, ‘The Big Red Dog (Maybe Clifford)’

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