Why They Rejected The Best HR Candidate They’d Ever Interviewed — The Shocking Truth Revealed!    

Note: This article was written over five years ago. However, as we face the aftermath of the pandemic, high inflation, and HR interviewing begins to pick up steam, there’s an important message to never forget in dealing with people. Enjoy!

*  *  *

By Alan Collins

I recently ran into Taylor at a national SHRM conference, where he was one of the featured speakers. 

We first met a long time ago when he was interviewing at our company for an HR executive position,

Seeing him again, we agreed to meet for coffee early the following day to catch up.

As we sat down to enjoy our brews, I asked him why he decided not to join our company.

He looked down at his decaf and paused. 

But then he looked up and told me the REAL story…

Something I’d never heard before.

*  *  *

He reminded me that it took place eight years ago.

That’s when he interviewed with us for the HR job of his dreams.

He was one of the two finalists.

And it was a job he wanted desperately to land.

This was his third (and hopefully, last) round of interviews.  He’d already talked to twenty people, including most of the key HR staff.

On this day, he is to see the Division President and his senior executive team members.

And he is also there to see Wade. 

Wade heads up Human Resources for the international group and is about to retire.

Wade has been with the company for thirty-two years and is the last name on the interview list.

And as soon as Taylor arrives at Wade’s office and shakes his hand, he knows right away he’s not like the rest of the folks he’s interviewed with.

First of all, Wade is balding, has gray hair, and is overweight. He talks and moves rather slowly.  Everyone else Taylor has seen so far is roughly in their late thirties to early forties and are aggressive, quick-talking type A personalities.

Secondly, Wade appears to be about sixty years old. His glasses are definitely not in style, and his attire could use some updating.

Taylor thinks this is an absolute waste of time.  I’m a superstar.  This guy’s a joke.  And he wonders:  “Why the hell am I spending time with him?” 

So at the end of the interview, Wade asks him, “Do you have any questions?”

Taylor thinks this has been an easy interview.  Wade asked him pretty basic questions, and he crushed them with his brilliant and thorough answers.

He has no questions for Wade.

Taylor leaves the building knowing he has impressed the hell out of the other executive interviewers.

He’s proud of himself.

He’s managed these meetings well, and he’s excited.

And he’s absolutely convinced, without a doubt, that he’ll be hired as the new VP of Human Resources for the Quaker Oats Foods group!

Three days later, he gets a call from Mary, the CHRO for the company.  Mary is leading the search committee to fill the job Taylor is interviewing for.

As soon as he sees her name on his caller ID, he thinks, “This is it!  This is the offer!  Hot damn!”

When he picks up, Mary cuts to the chase and says, “We’d like you to come in again.”

Confused and disappointed, Taylor replies: “Mary, you want me to come in for a fourth time…”

“Yes, we need to talk. Since your office is only a few blocks away, hopefully it’s not a big inconvenience…”

“Sure, not at all.  See you shortly.”

When he arrives, Mary gets right to the point:  “Taylor, we’re very impressed with you.  You frankly blew us away.  The President liked you, the senior leadership team liked you, and so have the hundreds of other people we’ve had you meet.  I know this has been a long interview process, so thank you for your patience.”

She went on, “In fact, we all agree that with your experience and all your accomplishments…

You’re probably the best
HR candidate we’ve ever seen!”

Then Mary took…a…long…pause…and…uttered:  “But we have some major concerns.”



“About what?”

“About your interview with Wade.”

“Wade?  You mean the Wade who’s about to retire?”

Said Mary: “Yep, same guy.  You were quite engaging and super-aggressive with everyone else with your questions. But you weren’t with Wade. He said you seemed uncomfortable throughout the whole interview and barely responded to him. At the end, he asked you several times if you had any questions, and you said no.”

And I think he said finally, ‘So you have no questions for me?’ and you shook your head, frowned, sighed, and then looked at your watch twice…as if you couldn’t wait for the interview to end.”

“Let me tell you a few things about Wade.  He’s a nice guy.  And until he retires and we find his replacement, he still heads up HR for our International group, the largest division in this company.  Yes, he’s slowed down a lot.  Someday you will, and someday I will too.”

“Wade, at one time, was our best HR executive.  Bright.  Sharp. Aggressive. That is, until his heart attack.  Years ago, he launched the first-ever Leadership Institute at this company that the executives still rave about.  He drove the first initiatives to improve the representation of women in senior leadership positions. And today, he serves as a wise, trusted advisor to many of the executives on the President’s team and to the union leaders at our factory locations.”

“We’ll all miss him when he leaves the company next month. And believe it or not, ten years ago, he held the exact same job you’re interviewing for.  That’s why he was on your interview schedule.”

“And Taylor, let me tell you one other thing…

Wade hired me!

“So, if Wade isn’t as sharp as he used to be, he’s still a lovely person and a good human being.  He’s done well with our organization, and the knowledge he has about this place is priceless.  Everyone loves and respects him.”

“We’re not sure what all this says about you and your character or why you choose to treat him the way you did.  But whatever your reason was, it was wrong.”

“Our senior leadership team is concerned that in this job, you’ll be dealing with and negotiating with several powerful and influential union leaders who have been with us for over 30 years.  Many of them are nearing retirement, just like Wade.  While we have our battles and disagreements with the union, we always treat their leaders and senior employees with the utmost respect.  We are worried that if you can’t be respectful of Wade, an executive who has forged an incredible legacy with our company, we don’t know how you’ll relate to others who may not be as quick or brilliant as you are.”

“Taylor, you are an outstanding candidate, and I could have told you all this by phone.  But you’ve invested lots of time going through our interview process.  So we owe you the truth.  And I somehow thought since you work nearby that you deserved to hear it in person.”

And the truth is this…

“We will NOT be offering you the job.
I’m sorry.”

Taylor sat stunned and speechless.

He felt his whole world crashing down on his head.  Mary had just put up a mirror and let him see vividly what a total jerk he had been.

No one had ever taken him apart like that before.


Wade was a beautiful person – not sharp as he used to be, not as cool as he used to be, not young, not energetic – but a lovely man and a very accomplished HR leader worthy of respect.

Someone he treated shamefully.

And it cost Taylor a terrific job that he wanted.

He didn’t deny that he treated Wade differently.  But he tried to rationalize his behavior to Mary and begged for another chance.

She indicated that the decision was final, and it was too late. They had offered the job to another candidate, who accepted it the previous day.

And that ended his interview with our organization.

But that was not the
end of his story.

*  *  *

To say I was shocked at having him tell me all this would be an understatement.  And, I’m sure it showed on my face.  

I thanked him for revealing such a personal experience and for being so upfront and brutally candid.

He took one last sip of his coffee, looked up at me, nodded, and smiled. While painful at the time, I could tell he had finally come to terms with this experience after all these years.

He told me that this was a lesson that forever changed him as an HR leader, and it’s one he often shares when he’s coaching high-potential, up-and-coming managers who seem too full of themselves.

Simply put, what he learned was this:

“You cannot judge a book by its cover.
Some people may not
appear as competent, intelligent, or gifted as you are (or you think you are).  But like everyone else, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Frankly, there’s nothing new about this message.

But what makes it so meaningful for Taylor is that this was one of the few times he experienced a career setback so painful that it caused him to do some deep soul searching.

It required re-examining himself, his values, and how he viewed people.

And he did.

And he came out all the better for having done it.

Today, he’s an Executive Vice President and the top HR executive at a well-known computer security company, reporting directly to the CEO.

By all accounts, he’s hugely successful and highly respected.

It’s been years since the episode with Wade happened.

But it’s a painful lesson that changed him forever.

It’s a lesson he’s never forgotten.

It’s one I’ve never forgotten.

And neither should you.  


*  *  *

Comments, thoughts, or further insights on this article?  Please share them below by clicking HERE.

If you want to avoid more subtle setbacks and disappointments that can stop your career from dead in its tracks, then check out this entertaining read:  SHE STOLE MY HR PROMOTION!  An Unforgettable Story About Not Getting Promoted In Human Resources & THE NUMBER ONE SUCCESS SECRET  For Advancing Your HR Career Faster And Easier Than You Thought Possible!

You can get more details HERE.


Got a Human Resources interview coming up?  Want to dazzle your interviewers and crush it, then check out the step-by-step strategies contained in HR INTERVIEW SECRETS: How to Ace Your Next Human Resources Interview, Dazzle Your Interviewers & LAND THE JOB YOU WANT!

For more details, go HERE.

About the Author: Alan Collins is the Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best-selling HR books, including HR INTERVIEW SECRETS  , and SHE STOLE MY HR PROMOTION.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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37 Responses to “Why They Rejected The Best HR Candidate They’d Ever Interviewed — The Shocking Truth Revealed!    ”

  1. Unnati Says:

    Its really a mind opening article. i think giving dignity and respect is at the center of HR Professionals rather a basic value or principle.

  2. Cindy Zemke Says:

    Always, always, treat everyone you meet with respect and kindness…you never know when or how this will be repaid.

  3. Nitin Saagar Says:

    It is not applicable only in HR but it should be a general etiquette of a person to give proper respect & regards to another irrespective of age & gender.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Baptista Says:

    Dear Allan,

    Thanks for this piece. How unspoken words, attitudes and gestures speak volumes about us.

  5. jesca Says:

    I think it is good for all professionals to respect even the smallest employees in a company because you never know what can happen to you tomorrow. Good advice

  6. Ceo Says:

    This is an interesting article, and teaches us the value of baby boomers. In an organisation,we need to take time and see people clearly ,respect them and give a listening ear!!! One will be shocked at the amazing things you will hear. Never underestimate any human beings because we are carriers of diverse talents and unique abilities.

  7. Andrea Trent Says:

    That’s a great life lesson, and the important thing is that he learned from it. I very much enjoy your posts. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Naomi Taylor Says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this story with us…It’s a reminder to all of us that eveyone counts/matters, and we should not be dismissive of anyone regardless of our preception of them.
    Especially, in HR where I believe we should be held to a higer standard, since people are out business.

  9. LaRaine Says:

    I love this story and will share it with my co-workers. I work in HR and see it everyday the disrespect given to applicants and staff in higher education from my co workers who act as though the staff that need their help and other co-workers are the dumbest people since dirt.Being prompt for meetings, timely response, returning calls to everyone or just plain tell the truth! Truth telling in my organization is non existent to many degrees but enough of my ranting.

  10. Nyemo Says:

    Dear Allan, Thank you very much for sharing, this is a good lesson, it is good to respect and treat all people the same, some guys talks badly to the office cleaner or drivers too, all people deserves the same respect.

    Warm regards.

  11. Jyoti Says:

    Thanks for sharing the story, its has a deeper impact on how our attitude & actions can change our life. Also apprecciate the fact that Mary have Taylor his feedback and he worked on it.

  12. Chinyere C Says:

    Attitude is key. Thank you for sharing this story. The message is clear.

  13. Crystal Says:

    Treat all people with diginity and respect because it is the right thing to do.

  14. Deniece Says:

    Thank you for sharing. At times we really do need a dose of reality to keep us in check. This really helps.

  15. Crystal Spraggins Says:

    Am I the only one disturbed by the repeated use of the word “aggressive?” Seriously, doesn’t the workplace have enough “aggression?” And no, I didn’t miss the point of the story, but maybe Quaker Oats missed the point when they deliberately sought “aggressive” people and then discovered — gasp!– they aren’t always nice.

    Regardless, thanks Alan — this story was eye opening in more ways than one.

  16. Susan Says:

    During my various jobs, including 20 years in HR management and Labor Relations, I’ve loved and followed Garth Brooks’ song about needing people in low places. It has worked beautifully because when I needed something special done, the “low” employees come through for me without hesitation.

    Because of the disrespect, disdain, and clear assumption that I am too old to think, I have been unemployed for 5.5 years. The phone interviews go nowhere but obviously I looked good on paper. Recruiters are very rude and so are the younger C-Suite staff. I have experienced the absolute opposite of your friend, Taylor, and it’s ugly.

    Your article, Alan, is a strong lesson to be learned and I thank you for sharing it.


  17. Joseph Musoke Says:

    Dear Allan,
    this is priceless and i confirm this has happened to very many young talented or brilliant employees who have little respect to authority or others they perceive to be less brilliant.

    Indeed this reminds me of one of the colleague we had to get rid of because of attitude towards others yet he was very brilliant but would not hesitate to abuse or show hostility to others.

    But on self reflection this does happen to us always when we wish to change careers and wonder why the panel hesitated to select us.

    Thanks very much will from now on constantly check my self when appearing for interview.

    By the way am in Uganda and am currently looking for placement after my company winded up on acquisition.

    Appreciate any personal tips to help me break through.
    always appreciate your sharing it is worthy every penny.

    warm regards


  18. Valerie Harrison Says:

    Thank you for the story. Reminding us all that respect is critical professional expectation and should be recognized and reciprocated, at all times, you never know when the broom sweeper will become your boss.

    How to Win Friends and Influence People is a testament to respecting others for over 50 years since the 1st edition.

    A story that reflects a similar situation (In reverse)involving reciprocated respect for mature workers reminds me of a personal situation that involved Manpower recruiting in San Diego.

    I had personally applied for an HR Director position for the Girl Scouts of America, not because of the title or salary, but a passion and desire to work in non-profits, and one that promotes leadership and personal development.

    Here is the short version-

    Being passed up for an interview after applying for the “HR Director” position at GSA, which I felt was an excellent fit, curiosity got the best of me,I admit. but in my defense, only because I truly wanted an opportunity to discuss this position more with GSA.

    Therefore, I placed a call to the Manpower recruiter an asked if she could share any information as to the reason(s) I was passed over for an interview because I had my heart set on discussing the position.

    Subsequently, I requested that a senior recruiter review the submitted Resume a second time since being very sensitive to recruiters who are often times burdened with the daunting process of reading Resumes and scheduling interviews. Hoping that reaching out could answer a few questions to help me understand why I was not considered for an interview since this was an extremely important career choice and exact fit according to the job description and qualifications.

    I received a call from the Trevor Blair, the VP (I was later informed) who called me directly.

    During the phone conversation it was explained that “As a matter fact You are too over-qualified”…. I inquired as what over-qualified meant in terms of bringing the qualifications to the organizations….Needless to say, the explanation would not have passed a teat of scrutiny.

    Point to ponder- Having the ability to chose a particular organization is an earned luxury, and blessing when title and salary are not as important to performance as a meaningful job,in a position doing what you love. This makes employees happier, content, loyal, and satisfied employees, which has nothing to do with over-qualified or age/maturity.

    Evidence suggest Over-qualified is an over-arching PERCEPTION, without valid reasons not to hire someone perceived as “Over-qualified”.

    Most importantly, is that there is little, if any compelling scientific evidence that being perceived, as “over qualified results in poor performance or higher turnover.

    Most interestingly, is HR professionals who are experience and knowledgeable working with all multi-generational workforces, know that Gen-X and millenniums are apt to change jobs more frequently, desire higher salaries, and benefits, who will leave more often if not satisfied.

    There are many more details to this story, that out of professional business respect will not be shared. However, shifting mistake to a client, in a case such as this could very-well create a risky HR nightmare, since often times “over-qualified is disguised as being too-old. See links below

    Being curious for facts- That session Human Resources graduate students, were asked on the Final Exam to write a short essay discussing their research, thoughts, and understanding regarding the term “Over-qualified”. They were instructed to research and cite any evidence referring to the term “Over-qualified” (Being cautious not write questions that would change the outcome). Results, each student reported there was no scientific research that supported negative performance from being “Over-qualified”. And what research showed was the term was accepted as a PERCEPTION Only- with no supporting evidence that would indicate lower performing employees.

    The students were very knowledgeable HR Graduate students. To my surprise they raised the point that in their HR experience is the “Recruiting Agencies” should be liable for age discrimination in the event that charges were filed against a company who contracted with staffing agencies.

    This is not an isolated situation, which is happening more often than expected. The solution is that the term “Over-qualified” has no place in today’s multi-generational workforce and is an antiquated, unprofessional perception. Particularly, in an economy that does not recognize age as a qualification needed to perform a certain position.

    Here are a few of the resources students cited, which may help others not judge a book by the cover, for sure.




    Closing with a sense of duty to educate employers and young, inexperienced recruiting and staffing professionals, with the critical responsibility placed within them, who are responsible for careers and financial futures of every potential employee.
    Valerie Harrison. MSHR, CTGC

  19. Alan Says:


    Thanks for sharing such an instructive story.
    There’s much we all can learn from your experience.


  20. Dan Jowers Says:

    What a humbling story to share! As others have expressed, no matter what our status or position, EVERYONE deserves to be treated with respect.

    Just a couple days ago I was counseling two executives who were preparing to let an employee go due to poor performance. My counsel was just that…. despite his failures, his dignity needed to be preserved in the way his termination was to be communicated.

    Early in my career I realized that not all applicants understood this principle. Some presented a very polished front to those they thought mattered and were either rude or indifferent to others. After an interview, I always took the time to ask the receptionist about the applicant’s attitude toward them. For me, that interaction helped me access how they would treat other employees and customers.

  21. Suzanne Sheehan Says:

    Tough way to learn that you treat EVERYONE with respect and dignity. I once interviewed someone for a job who seemed an outstanding candidate — experienced, outgoing, knowledgeable, personable. After the interview, the receptionist waved me over and asked if we were offering him the position. I asked why, and it turned out he was totally obnoxious, dismissive and rude to her. He didn’t get the job either.

  22. Alexander Brave Moyo Says:

    Thank you for the eye opening story. It is imperative to understand that good attitude is also a key component of the skills required for a successful HR Practitioner in addition other competences.

  23. moses ese Says:

    This story is a must read not only for the HR Professional,and every person that desires to succeed in life. While humility and respect for others no matter their estate always promotes goodwill which every normal human being requires in life, arrogance and over-confidence do the opposite. Your success or failure will not fall from heaven, it will come through men. Which is why the bible says treat others the way you want to be treated: you never know who will be the source of a blessing or a curse. Let us all learn from this story and mend our ways.

  24. Ann Naylor Says:

    Hello All,

    Thanks for all your comments. Its nice to know that people are paying attention to what some HR recruiters are doing. I hope the industry will respect those of us who are changing career and have experienced the other end of HR that is not theoretical.We are interested in HR, but sometimes HR recruiters are not looking for talents or what anyone could offer, just the people they like.They have got their networks and no one else is allowed in the club.

  25. RLucio Says:

    Good read. All I can think of after reading your story is that in a few years Taylor will be in Wade’s shoes, as so will all of us one day. I’m a firm believer that as human beings regardless of age, race, title or social economic status we should respect one another especially our seniors they deserve it! Thanks for sharing, I’m glad he learned from his error.


    Very Good Lesson, not just for HR but for people in all walks of life.
    Thank you very much for sharing!!

  27. Lola Says:

    Such a life lesson learnt, human being no matter what, who or how they appears should be treated with dignity. If only our Hr managers from this part of the world can see it

  28. Linda Peterson Says:

    Whew…..thank you for sharing such a powerful FABLE Alan!

  29. Johnstone Munyiri Says:

    Excellent read and reminder.
    We expect respect and to be treated with dignity but forget that both are earned through a reverse process. As a manager and more so in HR, it’s a mandatory requirement.

  30. Sharon Harris Says:

    A good reminder to follow the golden rule to always treat others how we want to be treated, which is with respect and dignity.

  31. Germaine Says:

    Dear Alan:

    Once again, you shared with us a terrific story about the job search / interview process. This is a powerful lesson to all of us – on both sides of the interview desk. Treat everyone with dignity – prepare for your interview – don’t act impatient during the interview. Thank you for sharing this.

  32. Alan Says:

    Germaine, I’m thrilled this story resonated. Your comments are much appreciated. Hope your colleagues find this of value as well. Be safe. -Alan

  33. Chuck Imhoff Says:

    When we interviewed a candidate on site I would always ask the Receptionist and secretary what they thought of the individual.
    You can learn a lot about the person if they told me how he/she treated them poorly and looked down on them.

    More often than not we did not hire.

  34. Alan Says:

    Chuck, great point. We did the same thing at PepsiCo. Thanks for sharing your experience. Hope you are well.

  35. LaTonia Says:

    What a powerful lesson. Sometimes we think we’re so smart and our behavior proves just how dumb we can be. It all starts with common sense. There was such a great opportunity to gauge Wade’s insights and experiences on how to navigate and succeed in the organization based on his tenure alone. Kuddos to the company for sharing the truth and Taylor reevaluating himself.

  36. Alan Says:

    Thanks LaTonia, great insights about the article. You’re right it truly was a missed opportunity to gain Wade’s insights. Thanks for the share. Be well, Alan.

  37. Akbar serkani Says:

    We are drawn to those who give selflessly.
    Those who love openly and generously.