John-Paul Lee, CEO of Tavalon Tea, a premium tea company based in New York, recently interviewed a job candidate he's not likely to forget.
"The first two minutes were great," Lee says of the recent MBA grad. Then Lee asked the candidate who he believed Tavalon's biggest competitors were. To which the candidate replied, "I think Tavalon Tea is a formidable one."
"I assumed he was nervous and had blurted out the wrong company," Lee says, "so I played along and asked him, 'Why?'"
The candidate's answer? "I don't think they have the right management in place. I know the CEO of the company and he is a real jerk."
Rather than let on right away, Lee asked the interviewee if the two had met before, and if the grad knew where, exactly, he was interviewing.
The candidate, who finally noticed the Tavalon Tea logo on the wall, realized he was in hot water: "Oh my god, I'm sorry," he fumbled. "I know this is no excuse, but I partied a bit too hard last night."
It was too late -- the MBA was stepping in it.
"He didn't get the job," Lee says. "But he definitely made me laugh."
Ask any hiring manager about the worst job applicants they've interviewed, and you're bound to get an earful. Candidates have waltzed in an hour late, some of them clad in cutoff shorts and flip-flops, some even drunk.
With the class of 2008 getting ready to pound the pavement in search of its first big gig -- and many of the parents also making the interview rounds in the wake of a layoff -- I thought it fitting to present a few exhibits from the Interviewee Hall of Shame.
Edward Collins, president of Collins Wealth Management, a financial planning practice in Parsippany, N.J., soured on a promising candidate he'd been interviewing for an administrative assistant position when her cell phone rang.
"Not only did she answer it," Collins says, "she proceeded to have a 2½ minute conversation with the caller."
Collins would have understood if the call had been about a family emergency. But it wasn't.
"The conversation was about the previous night's episode of some television program and what was on the agenda for the coming weekend," he says. "I ended the interview when she ended the call." (Ouch!)
Of course, there's an easy way to avoid such cell phone flubs. It's called the Off button.
"I interviewed with the wrong department at a huge insurance company because I didn't remember the name of my HR recruiter," says Sean Flannery, who's now a software developer for a Chicago advertising firm.
Both interviews were scheduled for the same time, and both had similar job descriptions. Since Flannery couldn't remember the name of the person he was meeting, the receptionist sent him to the wrong appointment.
Twenty minutes into the interview -- his first out of college -- Flannery realized he was not interviewing for the Y2K developer job he had applied for but for an anti-virus developer job (something he wasn't qualified to do).
"I was so embarrassed that I told them I had to go to the bathroom and didn't come back," he says. "Now whenever I set up an interview, the first question I ask is, 'Who am I meeting with and where do I need to be?'"
"I had a candidate who brought his mom to the interview," says Lee, the Tavalon CEO.