Recruiters spill their most unusual interview stories

Men and women in a work meeting

4 mins, 30 secs read time

One of the best things about getting a group of talent professionals in the same room is taking the opportunity to share tips, tricks, and perhaps the occasional entertaining story. We recently gathered a group of recruiting, talent, and business pros to ask them a burning question: "What was your most unexpected experience with a candidate?"

These unusual anecdotes did not disappoint. Andres Traslavina, Director of Global Recruiting at Whole Foods Market shared how one candidate caught his attention through the power of trash. “One time I actually got a trash can delivered to my office with a note saying, ‘This is a trash can for you to throw away all the other résumés you’re going to look at, but here’s my résumé—please have a look.’”

Grace Winstanley, Senior Talent Acquisition at Edward Daniels Group, had a different type of memorable moment: “One of my colleagues let me know that the candidate showed up with a sword to the interview.

And Anthony Luckett, Head of Business at was surprised (and a little impressed) “when a candidate called me on my cell phone to follow up from a LinkedIn message. I totally got reverse recruited in that instance!

Watch the full video below to hear the rest of these eyebrow-raising tales.

Have you ever had an unexpected experience with a candidate? from Greenhouse on Vimeo.

The shift to a candidate-centric market

It used to be that many candidates felt they had to take this gimmicky approach to the job search. Companies got flooded with hundreds of applications for every role and candidates felt compelled to do whatever it took to stand apart from everyone else. But the economic upswing in recent years is leading to a shift in power and creating an increasingly candidate-centric market. There are numerous examples of this, but we love this story about how Airbnb used the storyboarding technique to become more empathetic to their candidates.

There are a number of factors contributing to this shift: Bloomberg recently reported that for the first time since 2000, the number of open roles is on par with the number of unemployed people. In fact, Bloomberg also predicts that the number of open roles is poised to outnumber qualified candidates for the first time on record. At the same time, companies are becoming increasingly aware of how unconscious bias can impact hiring decisions and turning to solutions like Greenhouse Inclusion to address and reduce bias in every stage of the hiring process. Finally, many employers are also realizing that the traditional approach to interviewing is not providing the insights they need into candidates’ skills, so they’re looking for more accurate ways to predict their performance on the job and embracing structured hiring.

Taking a new approach to applications

All these factors mean that the tables are turning and employers are beginning to examine unconventional ways to assess candidates. HR Dive recently published research from The Knowledge Academy indicating that 70% of companies are open to assessing candidates in escape rooms. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, an escape room is a group activity where participants are locked inside a room and must work together to solve problems in order to escape.

Employers in favor of this method find that it’s useful for evaluating skills like time management, problem solving, and communication. And the majority of job seekers agree—the same research from The Knowledge Academy found that 72% of US job seekers would be open to more unorthodox recruiting methods, whether that meant games of capture the flag, professional speed-dating sessions, or escape rooms.

Some employers have already begun to implement these new ways of screening and assessing candidates. Unilever’s application process for graduates includes an online gaming component that assesses candidates’ leadership skills. Citing research from PwC that found 60% of millennial job seekers see an employer’s “provision of state-of-the-art technology” as important when considering a job, Chief HR Officer Leena Nair writes, "From the CV, to the candidate search, to the interview, we're using technology to create a truly interactive experience allowing us to get a more meaningful connection with applicants.

But adding gaming to the application process isn’t just about creating a more entertaining experience for applicants—Unilever chose this approach because applicants can play anonymously, cutting down on unconscious bias in this stage of the interview process. Plus, allowing candidates to engage with the game on their own time creates a better candidate experience and reduces the time and costs associated with reviewing applications.

What’s next?

As long as people are involved in the application process, we’re bound to hear stories about the quirky and unorthodox approaches they’ve taken. For many talent professionals, human creativity and innovation are what excite us about our jobs in the first place. But as we continue to develop our understanding of interviewing best practices that will allow us to assess skills, predict performance, and limit bias, perhaps candidates will begin to believe that simply being themselves will be the best competitive advantage.

Have any unexpected candidate experiences of your own? Leave us a note in the comments to share your story!

Melissa Suzuno

Melissa Suzuno

is a freelance writer and former Content Marketing Manager at Greenhouse. Melissa previously built out the content marketing programs at Parklet (an onboarding and employee experience solution) and AfterCollege (a job search resource for recent grads), so she's made it a bit of a habit to help people get excited about and invested in their work. Find Melissa on Twitter and LinkedIn.