Thursday, January 07, 2010

Gaffe-o-rama. (Or, don't let an avoidable gaffe derail your job candidacy.)

The Wall Street Journal the other day had an interesting little column on the importance of not making gaffes on a job interview. (Note: you may need a subscription to access this article.)

The article was the usual amalgam of suspect little factoids - "The incidence of nervous job candidates has doubled since 2006"; duh-obvious advice (don't show up for an interview and ask to take a shower because you're sweating); and interesting anecdotes. (On second thought, maybe the advice is not so duh-obvious, given that one of the anecdotes was about the sweating guy asking to take a shower...)

One piece of advice included in the article I must say I just plain didn't get.

In the section on making sure that you're tactful, an interviewing guru named Dan Burns was described as:

...often asking promising prospects when they could start work before he made an offer. They often said they weren't available for weeks because they needed to give notice.

"That's the last thing a hiring manager wants to hear," says Mr. Burns, a recent retiree and author of "The First 60 Seconds: Win the Job Interview Before It Begins." You risk killing your candidacy unless you tell an interested employer that you're equally interested in the job, he cautions. Once you get an offer, you're in a better position to negotiate your arrival date.

Personally, the last thing this hiring manager would have wanted to hear - unless someone was currently unemployed, was, 'Hey, I can start tomorrow. Notice, schmotice. The place I'm working now can just eat my dust." To me, this would be more of a candidacy killer than saying, "Gee, if I get an offer I'd have to give notice."

Perhaps the point here was that you should say, "If I do get an offer - and I certainly hope that happens, because I'd just L-O-V-E love to work here - I'll figure out how to get in here as soon as I can."

Anyway, the article got me thinking about some of the gaffes that people I interviewed over the years have made. (I'm sure I made plenty of interview gaffes along the way. It's just kind of hard to recall what they may have been, since none was as duh-obvious as showing up sweaty and asking to take a shower... One of my favorite gaffe stories came from a business school classmate, who threw up in a wastebasket during an interview. He did not get the job.)

Here are a few of the ones I remember:

  • The co-op student who made it clear that she was only interested in my job, not the more humdrum, but still do-a-lot, learn-a-lot, junior marketing position that was on offer.
  • The guy who started out the interview by telling me how terrible our web-site and collateral were, and who (bonus points for this) had tact and peacemaking on his list of attributes.
  • The fellow who showed up and asked, 'so what exactly is it that XYZ company does" - which may have been somewhat forgivable pre-Internet, but was a howling gaffe post-Internet. (Even pre-Internet, we did have libraries, telephones, and personal networks.)

Of course, all of these candidates may well have made better hires than some of the gaffe-free interviewees that I ended up hiring who turned out to be complete and utter disasters.

But today we're talking interviewing, not hiring, mistakes.

And it is (duh-obvious) essential to avoid as many interviewing mistakes as you can. This is such a buyers' market that people are more likely to get dinged for a minor gaffe which, of course, probably does make job candidates twice as nervous as they were in 2006.

Of course, advice on "sweating the small stuff" on interviews no doubt adds more to the general nervous making.

Sure glad I'm not interviewing these days.

1 comment:

valerie said...

One of my worst interviewees wanted to work for me at Aberdeen. She was completely wrong for the job. I toned it down telling her instead that I needed someone who could off load me immediately, not someone I'd have to bring up to speed. She begged, she cried, she argued, she sent long letters, gifts, phone calls .... she stalked. What part of this behavior did she think would change my original assessment of a non-fit?

But a friend of mine has us all beat. A guy came in and asked if he could get more comfortable. Sure -- make yourself at home. To which invitation he responded by slowly getting naked as a blue jay. Gaffe? or Candid Camera? No hire either way.