My Scariest Interview – He Threatened to Kill Me!

Hi, I’m Brad Smart, founder of Topgrading. This blog is mostly just to entertain you, but with one important lesson about interviewing.

As a professional interviewer of candidates for top jobs, I have conducted thousands of five-hour interviews. And among those interviews a few bizarre and even scary things happened. This blog tells you one of those interesting stories and it starts with a guy with twin pearl-handled 45s bursting into the office and threatening to shoot me.

But first I’ll tell you about the context of the interview. Although my company trains all managers how to use Topgrading methods, clients sometimes want a Topgrading Professional to conduct the Topgrading Interview. As you probably know, candidates are told that a final step in hiring is for them to arrange reference calls with their managers. So low performers drop out – good – and, theoretically, all candidates we interview are sharp and honest. Theoretically, but not in this case. My new client had not told the search firm to tell the candidate for Chief Operating Officer that a final step in hiring would be for him to arrange reference calls.

I was using the CEO’s office, sitting in his chair, and started the interview by reminding the candidate that eventually he’d have to arrange reference calls with bosses. But he said the search firm had not told him that. He looked concerned. He blanched. He fidgeted. He looked away. And then he said, “Dr. Smart, I’d better tell you – my resume is all fiction because I’m running from the Mafia in Las Vegas, and I don’t want them to find me.”

Holy cow. This was going to be a very interesting interview and my client would want “the story” behind Mr. Mob Avoider. So, I started the Topgrading Interview when…

Commotion in the outer office – the CEO’s assistant is yelling! Then BAM! A guy wearing a cowboy hat and two pearl-handled 45s burst through the door, paused a second, and then put his hands on the guns. Mr. Killer glowered at me and yelled, “I’m gonna f***ing shoot you!” Then he looked puzzled and said to me, “Are you the CEO?”

I almost laughed – this guy is gonna shoot without knowing if I’m the guy he wants to kill… and he doesn’t know what the CEO looks like?

“No,” I gulped, and pointing at my interviewee I said, “He is.”

No, I didn’t – just a joke. I really said, “The CEO is out of the country and I’m just using his office.”

Then Mr. Mob Avoider jumped toward Mr. Killer and Mr. Killer went for his guns! But Mr. Mob Avoider was quicker, pulled some martial arts moves, and pinned the guy to the floor. He yanked off his belt and “roped” him like a steer. Phew! The police took him away.

As we learned, this warehouse worker had gotten into fights and had been fired that morning. The CEO had never met him or even heard his name. But the guy was a psychopath and figured the owner of the company must be out to get him, so he’d kill him.

Mr. Killer had threatened the CEO (indirectly), me, and Mr. Mob Avoider by going for his guns. That’s 3 assault charges!

The court ordered Mr. Killer to see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist got the CEO, me, and Mr. Mob Avoider on the phone and said, “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but Mr. Killer is a psychopath who could eventually get out of jail and try to kill all 3 of you. If you press charges, you’ll just confirm his paranoia. Sorry, but that’s the way Mr. Killer thinks.”

None of us pressed charges, Mr. Killer remained fired and got 2 years of community service, and that’s the end of the story!

I guess my point was to entertain you, but a related point is – use the Topgrading Truth Serum; that is, tell candidates THEY will eventually have to arrange calls with bosses. Mr. Mob Avoider would have dropped out. Wait a minute! If he had, and I were interviewing a sharp candidate without martial arts skills, I might be dead!

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