FWIW: Interviewing - Make-or-Break Interview Mistakes

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
For What It's Worth:
This article appeared in Business Week. I don't necessarily condone the views of this author, but you should be aware that attitudes like hers will keep you from getting past this "gatekeeper" if you don't find a way to evade or counter her prejudice and bias. In point of fact, if the author were MY employee and she related some of this activity and her thinking about it to me, I would be sending her for retraining and attitude adjustment.
Make-or-Break Interview Mistakes By Liz Ryan
Mon Feb 6, 12:04 PM ET

Some people go into human resources thinking that it's like social work. Here's a news flash for anyone who thinks in those terms: If you're the kind of person who wants to adopt every stray kitten and advise every needy person you meet, you may want to find a different profession.

The plain truth is that HR people have limits on how supportive they can be. They can help employees only to the extent that what's good for them is good for the company. They can help job candidates even less because the HR person's job is to evaluate applicants -- and eliminate from consideration those the company just doesn't need.

A perfect example of the limits of HR compassion involves the job seeker who needs professional advice. Every HR person has stories about people who have come to interview in wildly unsuitable attire, or who have said something so outrageous within the first five minutes of the interview that the rest of the conversation was a waste. As much as they may joke after the fact, most HR people -- myself included -- dread these situations.

Your natural instinct is to be helpful, to tell the candidate where he went wrong. But you can't; you might get sued, you might offend someone. And in any case, there's no benefit to the company in being so, well, caring. Instead, you clam up, smile that lips-together fake smile that corporate HR people are so good at, and say to the candidate: "We'll be in touch."

So, if hapless job seekers are making the same mistakes during interview after interview, who's going to tell them? Unless their friends somehow see the picture, no one. That task falls to me, right here, right now. Pay attention to these suggestions for avoiding five major "we're done" interview behaviors, and tell your friends:

Dress for the occasion.
I interviewed a gentleman for a product-manager position who was smart and friendly. He arrived in a lovely wool suit, but wearing a necktie with a large Taz on it -- you know, the Tazmanian devil. Now why, I couldn't stop thinking, did this guy wear a Taz tie to an interview? He didn't mention it, so it wasn't some sort of rapport-building device.

I sure as heck didn't mention it, but the Taz tie took up more and more space in the room, until I couldn't tear my gaze from it. Why a Taz tie, in a business job interview? Does the guy own the whole Looney Tunes character collection? It was too weird -- a big deal. Why didn't he wear a different tie?

You don't have to wear Brooks Brothers to a job interview, but you have to look businesslike. There are still plenty of funky startups that would welcome a job seeker in one of those 1950s bowling shirts that Kramer used to wear on Seinfeld. But if you're applying at a standard, buttoned-down company, dress the part. And please, gentleman: If you have any '80s vintage three-piece suits, donate them! Burn them! (If three-piece suits are back and I missed it, somebody let me know. But the '80s ones are unmistakable, and they have to go.)

Restrain the camaraderie.
It's great to be friendly. In fact, it's essential, unless you're applying for an actuarial job (just kidding). But engaging in too much camaraderie with a complete stranger is clingy and pathetic.

I interviewed a woman who had worked for a company for which I had also worked. She had arrived about six months after I'd left. At the interview, she asked about a few people we knew in common from the other company. Of course, I knew them. Sally Jones? Yep. Joe Bartlett? Roger that. Jose Quintera? You betcha. After six or seven names, I thought, look, lady, we know the same people. But she kept going, until she'd run down the whole employee roster. It was spooky -- and it didn't help her case.

Be pleasant, be warm, but keep interview banter professional. This is not a new friend of yours; this is a person who is interviewing you for a position. Go ahead and recommend a dog groomer if the conversation turns to dogs, but don't offer to take her dog to the groomer the next time you go. You think I'm joking? I'm not.

Control your nerves.
You get nervous on a job interview. That's normal. But if you can't sit relatively still for an hour, you'll want to work on that. I've had candidates get up and pace around the room mid-conversation. I've had them walk over to the window, look out, and begin commenting on the street scene. These are not pluses. I've had a candidate say: "I'm tired of sitting. Can we walk somewhere?"

Now, if you worked for the company for even one day, and we were chatting, and you said: "I'm tired of sitting. Want to walk somewhere?" that would be perfectly fine. Everyone gets tired of sitting. But if I'm an HR person -- well, I am an HR person -- and I walk up and down the blocks-long building many times a day escorting job candidates to and fro, then I need to sit sometimes. Once we get to a job offer, we can negotiate terms. Right now, it's sort of -- sorry to say this -- my terms, and I want to sit some more.

Avoid offering too much information.
I want to know everything about you, professionally. I want to know your interests and what motivates you. The history of your car's mechanical problems? I couldn't care less. Too much information, or TMI, is a big problem for some job seekers. Every interviewer has a different tolerance level, but I think I'm pretty forgiving. That's why it's so astounding when people go past even my limit -- and start talking about their difficult relationships, or their problems with their bookies.

Somewhere, buried deep in their subconscious, I believe that such people have the idea that employers give jobs to people who seem to really, really need the job. This is not the case. Keep personal issues to yourself. Once we become workmates, we'll have time to learn all about your soap operas, and you'll learn about ours.

For now, clam up. If you're going into the third chapter of your saga about the horrible boss you left behind at your last employer, and I'm furiously taking notes, here's what I'm writing: Shoot me. Poison me. Kill me now. Kill me now. Please, please kill me now...

Cut the puffy stuff.
You want to promote yourself, I know. But too much puff is a huge turnoff to employers. The key to presenting yourself as accomplished yet modest is to introduce all self-promoting topics with an air of humble gratitude, even mild bewilderment. "I'm not quite sure how it happened, but I won the Nobel prize."

If, instead, you start every sentence with something like: "After I beat out two other guys for the VP spot, and then blew away the goals and made the last guy look like a turkey, well, you could say I became the Golden Boy," you need not finish. The interviewer will be jotting "not in this lifetime" on his little pad of paper.

By the way, there are certain initials that can follow your name on your resume: M.D., PhD, and JD are among the most common. There are certain technical and professional designations that can sit up there, too: CPA, SPHR, and CFA are some of them. Also, PMP for project manager, and lots of others.

MBA is not one of them. An MBA is something you have, not something you are. Including MBA in your title is excessive self-promotion. Those three initials will help you every bit as much down in the body of your resume (under Education, duh) as they would next to your name at the top.

Now that you have these hints, you should be unstoppable. Just remember the four P's: No puff, no pacing, no palling around, and no personal info. What did I forget? Oh, yes -- no three-piece suits and no Taz. Now go get 'em!

Let me ask these:
Do any of you recognize yourself at some point in your history being one of these folks who botched the interview?

If you were the interviewer, did you mentally consign a candidate to the seventh circle of he!! because he exhibited a flaw of wearing a loud or garish tie or some other minor idiosyncrasy?

How would YOU deal with these candidates?

How would you deal with this interviewer if you were her boss?
 

Helmut Jilling

Auditor / Consultant
Wes Bucey said:
How would YOU deal with these candidates?

How would you deal with this interviewer if you were her boss?


She makes some good points, but unless she was applying her comments to exec level candidates, I detect an arrogance, smugness and humorlessness on her part. Her boss should set her down a notch, IMO.

It would interesting to see her on a job interview.
 
Q

QualityPhD

hjilling said:
She makes some good points, but unless she was applying her comments to exec level candidates, I detect an arrogance, smugness and humorlessness on her part. Her boss should set her down a notch, IMO.

It would interesting to see her on a job interview.


Well, I don't think Liz will be on any job interviews in the near future as she is quite secure in her current role.

:read: Here's a tidbit about Ms. Liz Ryan:

"The Trailblazer Award specifically recognizes pioneering women business owners. Thus, the AWC selected Liz Ryan, the founder of WorldWIT, as their 2005 Trailblazer recipient because of her vision to create the world's largest online networking organization for professional women in business, formed for women to share advice and ideas with other women eager to "connect."

WorldWIT now connects nearly 40,000 women in business, education, philanthropy, government, the arts, sports, media, medicine, public service, science and technology from around the world via its FREE discussion groups (including RockyWIT in Colorado boasting 1,500 members) and, through Liz Ryan's leadership, and has brought face-to-face networking and educational events to businesswomen in 26 countries-since Liz took the personal, financial and career risk and launched the initial chapter, ChicWIT, in 1999." from https://www.worldwit.org/Newsroom/PressReleases/Trailblazer_Award/

Liz is a regular contributor to Business Week, and much in the style of a writer, she has expressed the views of many HR "professionals" in her recent piece.

Unfortunately, those are HR folks and they are the gatekeepers :frust:

It's always been my advice to sidestep the gatekeepers when possible... and get to the decision maker directly. Maybe Liz would like to share her personal networking experiences here at the Cove. If anyone is interested in calling her, there is a contact number in the above-referenced press release.... tee hee hee
 

Jim Wynne

Leader
Admin
Wes Bucey said:
If you were the interviewer, did you mentally consign a candidate to the seventh circle of he!! because he exhibited a flaw of wearing a loud or garish tie or some other minor idiosyncrasy?

How would YOU deal with these candidates?

How would you deal with this interviewer if you were her boss?

I have a feeling that the tie wearer was testing the interviewer, and was well aware that ol' Taz was looming large in front of her. There is simply no reason that any reasonably intelligent person would wear a tie like that without a reason for doing it, and methinks Ms. Ryan isn't quite as sharp as she thinks she is if she didn't realize that immediately. All in all, I think I'd consider myself fortunate to not work for a company where she was a decision maker.
 

Helmut Jilling

Auditor / Consultant
QualityPhD said:
It's always been my advice to sidestep the gatekeepers when possible... and get to the decision maker directly. Maybe Liz would like to share her personal networking experiences here at the Cove....


So, if women go to her networking events, they can sidestep gatekeepers with the restrictive attitudes she expressed in her article.

My earlier comments, notwithstanding, her advice is good. I just didn't like the air about her that she gave off. She may be a bit full of her own success....
 

Helmut Jilling

Auditor / Consultant
Jim Wynne said:
I have a feeling that the tie wearer was testing the interviewer, and was well aware that ol' Taz was looming large in front of her. There is simply no reason that any reasonably intelligent person would wear a tie like that without a reason for doing it....


...darn, now I've got to go buy all new ties....probably can't wear my Christmas snowman, either...

...s'pose velour ties are ever going to come back?

Do people even wear ties anymore?
 

Jim Wynne

Leader
Admin
hjilling said:
...darn, now I've got to go buy all new ties....probably can't wear my Christmas snowman, either...

...s'pose velour ties are ever going to come back?

Do people even wear ties anymore?

I'm fortunate to work in a company where every day is casual Friday (and I do mean casual, like T-shirt and jeans) even for the executives. Ties are a sure sign that the people wearing them are visitors. And guess what--all the work still gets done.
 

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
The Taz tie

I interviewed a gentleman for a product-manager position who was smart and friendly. He arrived in a lovely wool suit, but wearing a necktie with a large Taz on it -- you know, the Tazmanian devil. Now why, I couldn't stop thinking, did this guy wear a Taz tie to an interview? He didn't mention it, so it wasn't some sort of rapport-building device.
My own taste in suits runs to banker's pin stripes and conservative ties, reflecting my investment banker background. A product manager, however, doesn't strike me as being a role requiring conservative clothing. I think the tie comment was off base.

As to the three piece suit, I can only figure she doesn't have any idea of men's fashion - see photo
 

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It really goes both ways...

One thing that seems to have eluded her is that those interviews go both ways: She may be trying to get a picture of the interviewee, but does not seem to realize that the interviewee is trying to get a grip on the employer in turn. She represents the employer. Enough said?

Twice, so far I have turned job offers down because of the HR rep's attitude...

I think Liz is making one major mistake herself: She seems to favour the "my way or the highway" view of the world. I wonder how many perfectly suitable candidates she has turned down (or away) because of her rather rigid views?

Jim Wynne said:
I'm fortunate to work in a company where every day is casual Friday (and I do mean casual, like T-shirt and jeans) even for the executives. Ties are a sure sign that the people wearing them are visitors. And guess what--all the work still gets done.
Good point. Casual day is not on our agenda, btw... we don't need it: Suits and ties are few and far between here. Not a single person (not even our site mgr) wears the "uniform" all the time, and few of us at all. We sometimes dress "for the occasion" when we have visitors, that's all. As you said, the work still gets done... It's more a question about what people have between the ears and how they use it, than how they choose to cover themselves.

/Claes
 

Statistical Steven

Statistician
Leader
Super Moderator
Interview for the company culture. Make sure you do your research on what is acceptable. If the company is casual, do not come in wearing an expensive suit.

I disagree about the idea of comraderie. I think you should try to relate to the person interviewing you, though do not talk to them like a friend.
 
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