Recruiters Share Horror Stories of Working with Hiring Managers

From blatant racism and sexism to unrealistic expectations and bizarre demands, here are some of the most shocking tales.

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May 28, 2024

When people think of the hard part of recruiting, they often think of recalcitrant candidates or the search for rare skills. However, the hardest part of working in talent acquisition is often dealing with hiring managers. I reached out to recruiters to share their horror stories about dealing with hiring managers, and the responses were both eye-opening and entertaining. Here are some of their most memorable tales:

Racist Hiring Managers

“I lived in Miami, Florida. My general manager told me not to hire any more Hispanic employees.”

“I had a hiring manager tell me she only wanted me to send her Hispanic workers. I think she thought I would go along with her ideas because I am Hispanic.”

I don’t need someone who speaks Spanish. Bring me someone who speaks Spanish AND who was born in that Spanish-speaking country. A native speaker.” My response: “We can’t prefer based on national origin.” The hiring manager replied, “Okay, then I’ll just do it and not tell you.

“I was working on a VP search and was told by the executive that the team would really like to hire a Latina female for the role. I told him he would receive any qualified candidates.”

“A CFO told me a candidate was ‘a little too black for the hiring manager, who was also the owner. He said, and I quote, “You know he has to have a little arm candy,” and asked me to look at their LinkedIn profile picture as part of the resume screen. The position was for a senior accountant. I was new to the company and hadn’t figured out how they were doing things yet. I was so shocked that he would say something so outright racist.”

“My boss over ten years ago, before my time in HR, a middle-aged white man told me he was tired of hiring young white girls because they kept quitting and only wanted to hire young Asian women (I am also Asian) because they were hard workers. He was an absolute tyrant who didn’t pay that position well. As it turns out, one of the two who has worked for him the longest was a young white woman (still with him 10+ years later).”

“I had a boss who didn’t like weird names. He wanted to hire people with normal names. Somehow, Breeannah was acceptable, but Cleopatra was not. There was definitely some not-so-thinly veiled racism.”

Outside the office, skills

“I had an executive team member whose priority was candidates who had played team sports—their resumes went to the top of the pile. He told me that playing team sports was an indicator of business success. I just stared and quietly said… I’ve never played team sports, and I am your peer…”

Bonus points if you can find us someone that’s into pickleball. We’ve started a league and need an MVP.”

I prefer pretty candidates

“I did phone screens for an admin role in a regional sales office. Narrowed it down to a couple of candidates for the hiring manager to interview in person. The feedback from the manager was Candidate B would be the best fit from an experience standpoint, while Candidate A would be best for morale. I asked if Candidate A was attractive. Yup… sure was. We hired Candidate B.”

“I just had a client ask for a salesperson. But he specified that they couldn’t be old.”

“While working for a staffing agency, I had a hiring manager tell me no one who was fat, no one of a certain race, and no one from a certain city because everyone in that city was lazy and on welfare. Needless to say, we immediately stopped doing business with him.”

“One hiring manager told me his preference was to hire ‘pretty, young, blonde massage therapists with tight bodies.’ On my first day on the job, I cut all the feeds to the camera systems in the spa and spent a year being a human shield between him and the rest of the female staff.”

“A senior leader in the construction industry needed an admin and wanted someone between 20-25 who was easy on the eyes and didn’t have an annoying voice.”

“A Regional Director for a Fortune 100 company was hiring an Ops Manager and refused to hire someone who came highly recommended, had 15 years of experience, and was from a direct competitor because he didn’t have… curb appeal. The candidate was amazing: a great leader, professional, and excellent at driving revenue.”

I don’t need to fill this position, but please screen candidates.

“The typical post the job just to see what’s out there and call candidates, but we’re not actually hiring… No!”

“I had a hiring manager who wanted us to collect at least three references from candidates, not to actually glean information about them, but so we could add the references to our ATS and potentially recruit them. I declined.”

Market rates? What are those?

“They wanted an aerospace mechanical design engineer for $16 per hour. They got angry with me for conducting and sharing a salary survey of all the local qualified individuals with those skills, showing that they made $30 to $40 per hour. Another hiring manager rejected every candidate who had ever been laid off or unemployed because ‘companies don’t get rid of good people.‘ ”

“A hiring manager argued with me about our pay rate. We are very upfront about what we pay and do not negotiate the starting rate. He was convinced it was too low to attract candidates. The next week, he told me he had started researching other companies and their pay rates but stopped once he realized it proved my point, not his. We pay at the top of the market!”

“I also had another hiring manager argue with me about the starting pay range. She wanted to decline any candidate who was a licensed RN who was unwilling to take a pay range suited for a Nursing assistant. Shocker, she didn’t get any candidates presented to her during the first 3 weeks the job was opened.”

Sexist? Yep.

“A hiring manager explained her bias against men for a heavily administrative position. She said, ‘men just aren’t wired to do this work the same way’. The team is all-female.”

“A male manager told me to only send female candidates for open bartender positions. I told him the best candidates will be considered. He stated men spend the money, buy the drinks and they want to look at at something pretty behind the bar.”

“I was using a headhunter for a controller position back in the 90s. Headhunter spoke with the hiring manager (CFO) and told me they wouldn’t consider any women for the position since husbands didn’t like their wives to travel. I told him that my boss and I traveled without any issues from our spouses and he said we were different.”

About that workload

“When I worked in staffing, our branch manager wanted me to interview 11 people per day which included them coming on site, filling out paperwork, taking standardized testing, and then the actual interview.”

“A qualifier for a hiring manager was “if the candidate does not respond to a phone interview request within 1 hour of receiving it, we need to pass on them.” I did not let the hiring manager know when I initially sent out the requests since the 1-hour deadline was laughable!”

“A hiring manager wanted me to check all references on all 10 – 12 candidates she was even thinking about interviewing, so she could decide if she wanted to waste time talking to them. I finally managed to convince her that this was way too time consuming for me, that the information gathered is often minimal, and that I don’t like to tip off candidates’ current employers that they are job hunting until it’s the very last thing we do before.” hiring.

Unqualified manager

“When hiring candidates for a position that had a pass/fail test qualification, I had a hiring manager years ago who wanted me to send him written test results so that he could scrutinize the results by subject and told me he would advise on pay. I respectfully declined and told him if the candidate passed the test they are certified and entitled to x amount. He pushed the issue so I asked if I could look up his test scores…guy turned all shades of red and stomped out of my office…turns out he had never taken the exam.”

The Impossible candidate

I just saw an ad for a Generative AI consultant with 12 years of experience. These always tickle me.

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