Talent Acquisition

The Headhunter’s Guide to Pranks and Prats

Much as the title suggests, my colleagues (and unfortunately myself during my time as a headhunter) were as great a source of amusement to my customers, so here is a collection of our best and worst moments – mostly our worst. No names are mentioned, but you know who you are….

Porn in the airport:

If you’re travelling straight to the airport after work for a much needed holiday abroad, then do not leave your luggage unattended to for even a second. Here’s what happens if you fail to heed this golden rule. It’s late in the afternoon and you’ve gone to the toilet to spruce yourself up before your long trip. Sensing that this will be their last chance to ruin your day, your calculating colleagues open up the bag you have unwittingly left next to your desk. They slide some scissors (or anything sharp and metallic they can find) into the bag on top of your belongings – which they then cover in a layer of porn. Lots and lots of truly heart-stopping, obscene, probably illegal in most countries, hardcore porn.

They zip up the bag before you return to your desk, not suspecting a thing. You get all the way to the airport, you check in, you stroll through passport control, and then you hit customs. “I’m sorry sir, but there appears to a sharp metallic object in your bag which you’re not allowed to carry on board with you – do you mind if we open it up and take a look?” Your heart begins to beat out of your chest. You know something is up. You remember how weirdly happy your team was to see you go on your way out. You know they’ve done something, but it’s too late to check for yourself. The customs official is opening the bag while young families and old ladies stare at you wondering what you’ve done. Boy, are they about to get a shock!

Porn everywhere!!!! Sweat pours down your face, pee pours down your pants – which really doesn’t help your case considering the circumstances. Out comes the offending item – the scissors – which the official puts to one side. He doesn’t speak – he just judges you silently, but as carrying porn does not contravene any laws, he slowly starts to repackage the pages of filth – girl filth, boy filth, girl on girl filth, filth with animals, one page at a time until your bag is ready to be zipped up again.

Finally, it ends and you are allowed to go through and your first instinct is to call those bastards who did this to you and set them straight, so you make the call only to find yourself on speakerphone ranting to the whole office about your ordeal against a backdrop of uncontrollable laughter – you will never ever live this down.

Sadly, when my team tried to play this trick on our boss before his flight to New Zealand last year, he was one step ahead and was sure to check his bag before he left and remove both the porn and the scissors. How did he know? Perhaps it had something to do with him being part of the group that successfully carried off the prank several years before at his previous firm. You don’t become a manager falling for pranks like that. However, that still doesn’t save you from having to clean up the mess left by your newest underling the day before his promotion to your team comes into effect – read on…..

The curse of predictive text…and more porn

Note: if that witty put-down you just have to put into writing is really that good, it will still be cutting edge humour if you take a few extra seconds to double check the email addresses added in your ‘cc’ box.

It’s New Year’s Eve. You’re taking it easy (while pretending to be hard at work of course). You’ve just been promoted and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. You have three days off after this and then you start your new job at your new desk, sitting next to your new boss. What could you possibly do to screw this up?

Respond to an email designed to rile you up with what you think if the cleverest quip ever since you schooled that wise-arse in Kindergarten with the unanswerable “I know you are, but what am I?” That’s what. But no, you can do better than that. You can force him to share his humiliation with his entire team who you promptly copy in. You have to get in their quick though, so you just type in the first letters of their names and let Outlook do the rest – after all, how many other people in the world are likely to be called ‘Howard’?

Oh and I did I mention the porn? But of course, this particular ‘banter’ exercise all began with someone sending you a picture of two men enjoying the love that dare not speak its name followed by a taunt so wounding you can’t for the life of you remember what it was now. So, you write your piercing comeback – something about just wanting to be friends and not touching him in that way if your life depended on it. Get it? You’re pretending that him sending you the picture was actually an attempted sexual advance. My word, aren’t you clever? Stewie from ‘Family Guy’ is literally taking notes as we speak.

You press send. Let the humiliation begin. Your humiliation. The targeted team cracks up in hysterics (mission accomplished) apart from Howard, who for some reason has no idea what’s going on. Did he not receive the email? OH MY GOD, HOWARD DIDN’T RECEIVE THE EMAIL! Someone else called Howard, who you recently placed with one of the country’s leading broadcasters, however, did receive the email. By the way, did I mention this Howard was gay?

Time to call in the boss – not the outgoing boss, he can’t stop laughing. He manages to pull himself together for just long enough to drag me (I mean, the idiot who did this is who is not me under any circumstances whatsoever) over to the new boss. “He’s your problem now – you: tell him what you’ve done.” To this day, I must credit the coolness of his reaction. How do I describe it? Hmmm, anyone remember Harvey Keitel’s character in Pulp Fiction: ‘The Wolf’? Not a harsh word, not a single smirk, not even a raised eyebrow – just one very awkward phone call. Not to Howard, but to the account manager responsible for the client Howard is now working for. It would be his job to break the news, but first my boss had to break it to him and here is what he said:

Hi mate. Sorry to bother you on your day off, but we’ve got a problem. Tony accidentally sent an email that was intended for someone in the office to one of your candidates and it contains a really explicit picture. What does the picture look like? Well mate, it’s not good. I don’t know how to say this – alright: basically, it’s two blokes…bent double without a stitch on…and well….one’s f***ing the other. Can you handle it?

Boys and girls, you’ll be glad to know, Howard simply dismissed it for what it was, another piece of mis-directed banter. I say ‘another’ as it later transpired that I was in fact the second person in my office to do that to him in a week – the first being the account manager. No wonder he was so calm under fire that morning.

Best of the rest

The office arsehole who got his comeuppance when his colleague relented and gave him the lead into a contact at McVities (the company famous for its snacks and biscuits for the benefit of my non-English friends). He had about five conversations with a series of receptionists, who one can only assume were also in on the gag as he had to work out the prank for himself. This is how the last one went:

Office arsehole: “Hello. Can I speak to a Mr Caracas please?

Receptionist: “Can you give me his full name please?”

Office arsehole: “Yes, it’s Karim. That’s Mr Karim Caracas. Is he there?

Receptionist: (Muffled laughter)

Office arsehole: “I’m sorry, but I really do need to speak to Karim Caracas. Can you please tell me if he’s…..(finally works it out and slams down phone).

Office arsehole to colleague: “You bastard!”

How about the wet behind the ears sales consultant who recently survived sending an explicit email to the wrong person days before starting his new position?

Anonymous caller: “Hello can I speak to [insert name of team manager] please?

Sales consultant: “Can I ask who’s speaking?”

Anonymous caller: “I’m an old friend of his and he’s expecting my call. The name is Mr Bred. First name, Peter.”

Sales consultant: “No problem – hold one moment and I’ll see if he’s available.”

Sales consultant to team manager: “You have a call from a bloke who says he’s a friend of yours – says his name is Peter Bred?”

Team manager: “His name is Peter Bred? Are you having a laugh?” (whole team laughing in the background)

Sales consultant: Oh s**t!!!

Finally, there’s the classic email hack. Fortunately it was so common place where I used to work that I was just about able to convince my boss that I too had fallen prey to the oldest prank in the book (since email was invented anyway) when he received the following message from me:

I’m fed up of you and your crackpot methods. You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. I want to work for a real man who knows what they’re doing. I hereby tender my resignation with immediate effect.

And no, I didn’t actually send it myself just to see if I could get away with it. I may be stupid enough to send offensive pornographic pictures to new customers, but I’m not that stupid. To the person who did do it (and we both know who you are) you, sir, are a prat!

Until next time folks…

By Tony Koutsoumbos

Tony Koutsoumbos is a public speaker, campaigner, and entrepreneur who runs a communications consultancy named CLDS Debate Training Ltd. He previously worked for two years in IT and telecoms recruitment and kept a journal of his most interesting encounters and the lessons he learned from them.