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5 Hiring Horror Stories To Learn From

Elizabeth  Veras
Elizabeth Veras

Small business owners and hiring managers share their true hiring horror stories.

  • The average cost of a bad hire ranges from $17,000 to $240,000, depending on the position and type of business.
  • A standardized hiring process will yield the best results. The more structured time you invest in your process prior to hiring, the better chances you’ll have a great hire.
  • A recurring theme in hiring horror stories is a lack of verification by the employer. Always perform background checks and ask for references.
  • This article is for business owners and hiring managers looking to avoid bad hiring by improving their hiring process and learning from the mistakes of others.

Hiring new recruits can be a gamble. They can either be an asset to the team or wreak havoc within the company. Finding the right candidate and onboarding them can be time-consuming, but it’s worth it, especially considering that hiring the wrong candidate can be costly and set you back to square one. These five hiring horror stories – and the hard lessons that come with them – emphasize just how important it is to do your due diligence when considering a job applicant.

1. Five-finger employee discount

You’ve heard of employee discounts, but that usually doesn’t mean employees can walk away with products for free and without permission.

Roman Linetskiy, general manager for a Verizon Wireless retailer in Brooklyn, described a new hire gone bad who stole a significant amount of inventory from the location he manages. When the theft was discovered, the employee was fired, but that created a major scheduling problem for Linetskiy. On top of the stolen inventory, the scheduling shortage caused more costly headaches for the company, Linetskiy said.

“We had to scramble to cover the shifts and replace that employee, which caused unnecessary expenses that otherwise would not have to be absorbed by the company,” he said.

There were some red flags Linetskiy said he overlooked, thanks in part to a strong interview on the part of the candidate. In the future, a candidate’s lack of consistent employment history or references will register as suspicious, he said. Linetskiy offered the following advice to other entrepreneurs and hiring managers who want to avoid a similar experience.

“First and foremost, take everything that you learn from a candidate at an interview with a grain of salt — trust, but verify absolutely everything,” he said. “Moving forward, I will not hire without speaking to a previous employer and more thorough background checks.” 

Moral of the story: Make sure you run the appropriate background checks, contact previous employers and ask a stream of in depth questions during the interview process.


If you want to vet job candidates, consider the best background check services. Also check out small business insurance coverage, which may provide a safety net when unexpected events substantially affect your bottom line.

2. Spilling all the tea in a job interview

While background checks are important, they can’t tell you everything about a job candidate. Andrei Kurtuy, the co-founder and CCO at online resume builder Novorésumé, had to rely on his interviewing skills to suss out a candidate that might have been a catastrophic cultural fit.

“I once had the opportunity to interview a candidate for our company’s product associate role. While the applicant’s skill set on paper looked impressive, I came across multiple red flags during the interview,” Kurtuy said. “When I asked the candidate about their previous job, instead of talking about projects and experience, they began mentioning personal details of their former co-workers. These details included office politics, comments on the parenting styles of workers, personal issues his boss was having with various co-workers and sexist remarks regarding female co-workers.”

Kurtuy felt the candidate’s responses demonstrated a lack of professionalism. It also showed disloyalty, he said, since the company had offered the candidate positive references. Having interviewed other employees from the same company who also had strong references, Kurtuy was shocked to hear such negative gossip and chose not to recommend the candidate for hire.

“I had previously interviewed multiple people from the same company who had exceptionally good reviews regarding their employer,” he said. “I had never interviewed a candidate like this, so this was an eye-opening experience for me during the company’s initial hiring process.”

Kurtuy’s interview experience demonstrates that considering how candidates will add to your company’s culture is just as important as their skill sets. 

Moral of the story: How candidates will impact your company culture matters and should play a key role in your recruiting and hiring process.


Learn how to make the right hire for company culture by reading our comprehensive guide for small business owners and managers.

3. Binge watching on the clock 

Dealing with distracted workers is one of the hardest things employers face. Lisamarie Monaco, a national independent life insurance agent, experienced firsthand just how tough it can be.

“I hired someone to be my administrative assistant. We discussed her job duties at the interview, and she was well qualified and willing to learn,” Monaco said. “However, I would catch her watching movies on her phone while working, coming into work late and taking longer lunch breaks.”

While these issues weren’t inherently deal-breakers, Monaco said it wasn’t long before the employee’s quality of work dropped.

“Some tasks require complete focus, such as commission statements,’ she said. “I would notice the lack of detail and mistakes.”

After Monaco made several requests to the employee to put her phone away, she realized she had to take action. She had a one-on-one with the employee to try to resolve the problem, explaining that the distractions were leading to errors in the employee’s work. Unfortunately, even this one-on-one didn’t improve things, she said.

“I had to let her go. It was disappointing on many levels,” Monaco said, adding that all the time invested in training and coaching the employee was wasted.

Smartphones have become an integral part of our everyday lives, even when it comes to the workplace. Bring-your-own-device policies, or BYOD policies, even allow employees to use their mobile devices for work-related purposes. However, when employees use mobile devices in unproductive ways in the workplace, it can significantly impact their job performance.

Poor job performance is a reasonable and legal reason to fire someone. Before terminating an employee, it is important to document corrective steps, such as one-on-one conversations and the establishment of a performance improvement plan. If you are considering terminating an employee, read our guide on how to fire an employee legally.

Moral of the story: Sometimes even if you take all the right steps before and during the hiring and training process, you might end up having to fire an employee.


Entirely prohibiting employees’ use of cell phones isn’t always an effective way to eliminate the biggest workplace distractions. There are ways to encourage productivity at work, including taking timed breaks, working close to productive co-workers and being held accountable by managers.

4. What’s my role, again?

A hiring process should be efficient in identifying title, compensation and responsibilities clearly before hiring a candidate. Unfortunately, for some job candidates, the job they accept doesn’t end up being the role they play.

Christine C. Street, sole proprietor of marketing and advertising consultancy CStreet Creative, recalled a nightmare job where she was hired for a nebulous position that seemed to change day by day. When Street was hired, she was told she would be leading the company’s marketing department, only to find out that such a department didn’t even exist – most of the tasks had already been outsourced.

Moreover, Street said, she didn’t have a set title or set of responsibilities. According to Street, they said that “while [they weren’t] sure where [they] could put me, [they were] sure they needed my help.” 

The result was a series of strange interactions where Street’s title changed from meeting to meeting, and she was never certain what her role was supposed to be.

It is important to note that hiring a new employee does not conclude the hiring process. Onboarding your new hire in a welcoming and professional way will help integrate them in a manner that lays the foundation for a long-term, productive relationship.  The onboarding process begins with the offer and continues long after the first day. 

Make sure your employee has a clear understanding of the company’s goals. This serves to set expectations for both employer and the employee before the job is accepted. Having an onboarding checklist helps put new hires on the path to success, allowing them to become fruitful team members who stay with your company for years to come.

Moral of the story: Onboarding, transparency and setting the right standard are crucial to the longevity of a new hire. 

Key Takeaway

A detailed hiring process is a necessary element for organizational success and isn’t over after you’ve given an offer. Crafting and applying a consistent hiring plan can help employees feel comfortable while boosting productivity and reducing employee turnover.

5. Deer in the headlights

No one has a bigger impact on new employees’ success than the managers who hire and lead them. The hiring team should understand more than anyone else what their new hire needs to achieve and what it will take – resources, training and feedback – for them to succeed. 

AJ Silberman-Moffitt, senior editor at search marketing agency Tandem Buzz, learned just how wrong things can go when the wrong candidate is hired while she was training her replacement after accepting a promotion. 

“Because she worked in a position with the same title as mine, there was no reason to think she would not know how to use [the necessary tools and software],” Silberman-Moffitt said. “She answered everything appropriately [in the interview], and the HR manager and I hired her.”

But once the new hire accepted the offer, it quickly became clear she didn’t have the skill set needed to do the job.

“When she started, and I began to train her, it was like a deer staring into headlights,” Silberman-Moffitt said. “Even the simplest tasks, such as entering information into Excel, were difficult for her. It seemed that traffic at an agency and a television station were not as similar as I thought they would be.”

The hire ended in defeat, resulting in wasted time and money, Silberman-Moffitt said. “Ultimately, she was let go because she couldn’t grasp the job.”

Part of setting new hires up for success is understanding their real-world experience and asking the right questions during a reference check to better understand what you can do to help them start off on the right foot. 

During the hiring process, consider giving applicants an assessment or a test. Aptitude tests and projects aren’t always necessary, but they test whether the candidate can perform the responsibilities of the role. If you use any software or tools that are central to the role, it’s best to ask targeted questions about a candidate’s experience with them.

Moral of the story: Contact references to verify that the job candidate has practical experiences that line up with the skills needed to do the job. To be sure, conduct skill assessments before making a hiring decision.

Crafting a hiring process that works

Your employee hiring process should be methodical and well thought out. If it’s done right, you’ll find employees whose values align with the company’s mission. Thorough new-hire training and onboarding procedures are essential for a seamless transition for both employer and employee. A quick hire to fix a company’s needs generally does not bode well for the company and could waste precious time and money. Although a detailed hiring process may take more time up front, it can save you from experiencing a hiring horror story like the ones above.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Elizabeth  Veras
Elizabeth Veras
Staff Writer
Elizabeth Veras is a copywriter covering business and marketing topics, including digital marketing, particularly content marketing and social media marketing. She is also a content marketer focused on multiple channels, including web and social media. Veras holds an MBA in Marketing from St. John's University.