How not to get the job
There was yet another one of those time-wasting “Top X Something-or-others” non-articles on Boston.com the other day – this one being ‘How not to fail the job interview’ - and I let myself do a bit of time wasting by clicking through it.
Honestly, the biggest downside of reading the newspaper online is spotting a headline of some interest, only to realize it’s not really an article. It’s a series of captioned pictures – stock photo that somewhat illustrates the point – accompanied by a couple of sentences of content supporting the point. Grrrrr. I may be part of the incredibly shrinking coterie of folks who actually like to read entire paragraphs. Or even articles. That you have to turn the page (physically or virtually) to complete. But there are still some of us out there who are so not looking forward to the day when the Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded to someone whose oeuvre is a collection of tweets. (Not that you can’t compact an awful lot of good writing into short form. After all, even the brilliant and classic lead in - It was a dark and stormy night. –consumes a mere 31 characters.)
Second worst downside of online newspaper reading is spotting a headline of some interest, only to realize it’s a video.
I am so not wired for the time when writing and reading as we once knew it are completely obsolete.
But, as I am wont to do, I digress.
Here, paraphrased, is the list of ten ways to flunk a job interview and, hence, not get the job.
Show up too early or too late.
I definitely get the late, but why would it aggravate someone so mightily if the job candidate showed up early? A couple of hours, I can see, but the recommended time frame in the non-article was 20 minutes. I suppose you could sit in your car, or stand in the lobby, or find a nearby coffee shop, but what’s so terrible about 30 minutes? It doesn’t mean the interviewer needs to stop what they’re doing and bound out to meet you. And isn’t that what reception areas are for? You know, the ones stocked with back-issues of Technology Whatever – the one that features the company’s advertorial spread. Speaking of reception areas, I can never figure out whether it’s okay to help yourself to the candy bowl on the receptionist’s desk. I always want to, but am held back by fear of looking inner-child, or piggy. And who wants the evil-eye from the receptionist who reserves the Bull’s Eyes for the cute guy in AP? Sometimes I will nab something small and neutral – one of those red and white peppermint swirl candies, or a butterscotch. And note to receptionists everywhere: you can keep those Jolly Ranchers. Might as well set out unwrapped ribbon candy.
Pick the wrong network contact
Here you were thinking it’s just hunky-dory to get your résumé pulled from the pile because your college roommate’s brother-in-law plays golf with the guy in AP who likes Bull’s Eyes and - forget the receptionist; she’s not that cute – is dating the cute gal in HR. Come to find out that his name is anathema, that he’s known for stuffing the résumé box with paper from anyone he even tangentially knows, in hopes of occasionally bagging a bounty of $1K per hire that will save the company twenty times that on a head-hunter fee.
On the one hand, it makes perfect sense not to have a bad node in your network. It certainly won’t help your cause if the biggest jerk in the place, who compound’s his biggest jerk-hood by having no juice, puts in a kind word for you. On the other hand, how are you going to know that this is the case. And if he’s that big a jerk, why’d they call you in for an interview, huh?
So, this one isn’t all that clear. Yes, to finding the most relevant and well-positioned contact? No, to relying on the kindness of near strangers?
All I know is that, with one exception, every professional job I’ve ever held – including freelance – has come through my network. Maybe I just have some inner genius for picking the right network contacts. Or for picking the right friends, which is pretty much who my network contacts are.
Be unable to come up with any situation in which you made a mistake
Personally, I always hated that ‘what are your weakness?’ question. My inclination was to say ‘I don’t suffer fools gladly,’ but for most jobs that would have been a deal-breaker, of course. By now, everyone knows the trick of coming up with a real fake weakness. (“Sometimes I allow my colleagues to take all the credit.”)
Everyone also needs to have a mistakes-were-made problem situation in their back pocket. They just need to make sure that it’s not an “I always”, but, rather, an “I learned from” mistake.
And it goes without saying that the mistake (even if you learned from it) shouldn’t be one that reflects on any deep-seated professional or moral failing. As in, “I used to pad my expense account, but I got caught so I don’t do that anymore.”
Say something non-PC (“culturally insensitive”)
On surface, this one is duh obvious, but you never know what’s going to set off someone’s dudgeon-o-meter, do you?
I have no idea whether I’ve ever set someone’s off during an interview, but I sure had mine set off at least once.
We were interviewing a fellow for VP of Development at a small software company I worked for. He came in guns-a-blazing, criticizing our web site and collateral. Which was both amazing and amusing to me – and I’ll admit, a bit annoying – given that he knew I was the VP of Marketing and, thus, might have had just a teensy-tiny bit to do with them. But what really got me to torpedo this guy’s candidacy was the mention on his résumé that one of his foremost attributes was his ability to resolve conflicts among warring parties. Harrumph to that. Maybe he got good at this by stirring the conflict pots to begin with. Anyway, I made sure he didn’t get the job.
Talk about another job – the one you really want
As the hiring manager, this has happened to me a couple of times.
In one instance, I was interviewing someone for an internship. What we wanted the intern to do was clean up and manage our prospect data base, and then pitch in on any other marketing task we needed to get done, which, on our small team, was pretty much how we rolled. The prospective intern explained to me what she was looking for. Which was pretty much my job, without the pitch in on any other marketing task aspects. She didn’t get the job (mine or the internship).
In the other instance, I was interviewing an internal candidate for a position that, it became immediately clear, he had no interest in or affinity for. He really and truly wanted to be somewhere else, in an entirely different career. The job on offer was assistant product manager for a product that presented and analyzed near real-time stock market data (when this was a big deal). The candidate was quite upfront that he really didn’t want to be a tech product management dweeb, and that his only interest in the position was access to the data, as he really wanted to be a money manager. I told my boss that I was taking a pass on this fellow, only to have it explained that, if I didn’t hire him, I would lose the job req. Foolishly, I took him on, only to find that all he did all day was play with the data. As a result, we laid him off and he went on to become – ta-da – a successful money manager.
Stifle your personality
This may seem at odds with the suggestion that you should never be non-PC, but, in truth, the worst thing you can possibly do on an interview is repress the real you. If you have a sense of humor, do you really want to work with a bunch of dour gloomiacs? If you really are someone who works best on your own, should you be swooning and yelping for joy when the hiring manager explains that everything is done on teams?
I worked for one small company that had a pretty casual atmosphere with a ton of back and forth. Before we hired anyone, we invited them to “Friday Lunch”, when everyone in the company got together. We figured that anyone who couldn’t take the give-and-take of a Friday Lunch would pretty much self-select out of working there. And we were mostly right. But, occasionally, someone took the job despite the fact that they were too uptight, humorless, and sensitive to go with that company’s particular flow. They all left eventually.
Have a phone interview at a time when you’re not in a quiet place without distractions
Talk about duh obvious.
That said, here’s a phone interview tip I read somewhere: stand up while you’re talking. You’ll be more energized and engaged. For whatever reason, it works. (Don’t know if the current phone interview expectation is that you’ll be on video as well as audio, which would completely change the dynamics – luckily, in my book.)
Meanwhile, if someone calls for an impromptu interview, you need to gracefully propose a time-change when you will be prepared, and in a quiet place without distractions.
Keep harping on the same accomplishment, rather than have a diverse set of bragging-rights across multiple jobs
Seems pretty straightforward, although difficult for us shrinking violet types who don’t like to put ourselves forward. Then again, given the way the world’s going, the only people who get interviews will be the pushy “brand me” narcissists, for whom this will present no problema. Us introverts will have to take in laundry, I suppose….
Assume that everyone will recognize the name of the companies you’ve worked for
I, for one, have never been able to make that particular assumption, and have generally had a couple of words to place the company (e.g., small, defunct, dysfunctional – prior to its becoming defunct – B2T (that’s business-to-techie) software company).
I guess if you work for a Google or an IBM or some other household name-ish outfit, you might want to slot in the division or something.
Misspellings and grammos in written communications
I used to be a real stickler here, but, now that I’m a blogger. Wheeeeee. Standards have fallen, and I’m pretty sure I could overlook the odd typo or spello, perhaps even a grammo. But an out and out dumb-o.