Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Idiotic Things People Say in Interviews

"Welcome, Ms. Jones. Thank you for coming in for an interview today. I'd like to spend some time talking with you about your application and past work history."

"Oh, thank you for calling me. I'd be very happy to answer any questions you might have."

"OK, well let's start with an obvious one: Why do you want to work here?"

"Well, I just think it's a great company. You have such a great reputation, and I think my skills would be of great benefit to you. I'd work really hard."

"How nice. Well, can you be more specific about --"

"Oh, and it would be so nice to work with people who are educated. I mean, some of the people I work with now. Well, let's just say they're not the sharpest tools in the shed...."

"Uh. OK. Well, let's talk about this project you mention on your resume where you headed up the team that brought in a very lucrative project."

"You bet. We got that contract because I kicked ass and wouldn't take any crap from anyone. I didn't want to hear a bunch of whining about sick kids or lung transplants. I mean, we were there to make money, and I made sure we did that."

"I see. So...."

"You know, I just want to be clear here. If you hire me, I'm going to pull my weight and then some. When my parents kicked me out when I was 17, I didn't sit around and complain about poor little me. I did what I had to do, and sometimes it wasn't pretty. But it got the job done. And that's what I'll do for you."

"Ms. Jones, you certainly have given me a lot to think about. We have several other candidates to interview, so I appreciate you coming in."

"Sure thing. I can't wait to get out of this suit, anyway. These pantyhose are cutting off my air, and my feet are killing me in these stupid shoes. I'll wait to get your call."

(Ms. Jones leaves. Hiring manager wads resume into a tight ball and lobs it into the trash can.)

I'll bet there's been a time in your life where you've regretted something you said. Maybe it was a harsh word to a friend or a criticism of a loved one. You may have gone back and apologized, or tried to make it up in some other way.

But the problem with saying the wrong thing in a job interview is that you probably won't get another chance. If you're annoying, unprofessional or just plain weird, chances are you're not going to hear from that potential employer again.

So, here's a list. Memorize it. Recite it as a mantra. Text yourself. Just don't forget to:

1. Stay positive: Interviewees may try and explain why they want to leave their old job, or why getting laid off hasn't been such a bad thing. But instead of saying they're looking for a new opportunity, they talk about how Bill in IT was a dork and the boss was a real a**hole. This is an immediate turnoff for interviewers -- if you talk trash they know you may do the same about a new employer.

2. Clean up your mouth: While swearing may seem like a minor thing to some people, to some people it is a very big deal. And how do you know the interviewer isn't one of the latter?

3. Keep confidences. Don't reveal personal details about others. "Ted is a great guy but more than once I had to take his car keys after some company party. He just doesn't know his limits." Interviewers have to wonder if you'd blab company secrets or personnel confidences if they employed you.

4. Be a grown-up. Whining and complaining about people or events, talking about what a bad temper you have or how you suffer from low self-esteem will not get you hired. Hiring managers will see you as a boatload of anxiety or trouble that they don't need.

5. Keep your personal life personal. While some interviewers may try and lead you to talk about yourself in order to understand you better, it's best to steer clear of comments that put you in a negative light. For example, don't talk about how you used to be a "wild child" or "rebel" or "party girl." It's also best to refrain from saying "I'm a typical Irish guy" or "my religion is very important" or "during baseball season I'm a maniac." You want the interviewer to focus on your professional skills, not your personal life that they may feel will interfere with your ability to do the job.

Finally, remember that it's the interviewer's job to make you feel comfortable so that he or she can really get to know you and your strengths and weaknesses. It's your job not to let your guard down so much that you think you're chatting with your best friend and say things you will come to regret.

How else can a job candidate prepare for an interview?

Lijit Search


Rick Saia said...

Nice post Anita!

Two important things:

(1) Research the company and the industry or industries in which it competes. Hiring managers like candidates who have done a little homework before the interview.

(2) Prepare questions to ask at the interview. Focus those questions on the job (e.g., how critical it is, how success would be measured) and the company (e.g., its goals, its long-term vision).

~ Rick

Anita said...

Great additions. I think too many people try and just "wing it," and that can be a big mistake -- especially because they may be nervous and find themselves either tongue-tied, or saying too much.

Abhijeet said...

The last line about not letting one's guard down ... it put words into my mouth! And when I think about it now, have done that on a few occasions without realizing it.

Anita said...

I think we all have those moments and regrets!
Thanks for posting.

Gary Capone said...


Great example - I've interviewed people that have said all of those things, although maybe not all of them in the same interview. Too many job seekers have no idea how they come across in an interview. One additional point I would add to your five is to stay focused on the company's needs. They aren't going to hire someone because it helps the job seeker. They're going to hire the person that adds the most value to them.


Anita said...

You make a lot of good points. It might be helpful to write out sample questions the job seeker believes might be asked and how they would answer, then videotape or tape record themselves. They could then go back and critique their answers and see how they can be more targeted and professional in their approach.
Thanks for your suggestions.

Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers said...

I've been thinking a lot today about how so many people blame the economy or any number of other factors when they can't get a job, when there are some very basic things that job seekers can do to improve their chances. This post is a case in point!

Interviewing skills are important. Knowing what to say and what not to say is key...Once you're in the door, the employer is probably actually rooting for you. When you open up your mouth and insert your foot, the interviewer is as disappointed as anyone that he/she wasted a time slot.

I'd say the issue of preparing is a big one (as Rick mentions). Something we don't always emphasize enough: make an effort to appear positive and not down and out at the interview. Appearing desperate probably won't win you points, and most people wouldn't purposely choose to work with a sad sack. No matter how long you've been looking, an interview is your big chance. Get excited and sit up straight! (I'm actually working on a blog about this topic!)

Anita said...

Most hiring managers I have interviewed say they won't hire desperate candidates, although they can't exactly explain why. They also say they really take notice of people who give off a positive energy, so I think you really hit the nail on the head with that one.
Can't wait to see your post...should provide even more good information on this topic!

Ian said...

It's also important to get your story straight, I tell people to make sure they have 5-10 real-life story ready from their experience. (It worked for me a 3 years ago) Many of those cases can be use to answer many question that just come up.

The CAR structure can be used.
Case: What happened?
Action: What's your action?
Result: What was the result with your action?

This can be prepared in a job hunt even when you don't have a interview pending.

Anita said...

That's so helpful! I think that's a really good idea, and the more you think about those answers, the better they will be -- you'll start to really develop your personal brand of who you are and what you do. Thanks for adding such a great suggestion.

Dan Erwin said...

Like several other comments, I think that the key to effective interviewing is questioning. But I'd focus on quality questions--not closed-end questions. Questions about the job, its opportunities, its rationale for existence, etc. But there is another subject that will reveal your smarts to most recruiters--questions about the company's strategy. Go in with your assumptions about the orgs strategy, and a lot of questions about strategy, eg. "I'm assuming that your basic strategy is. . ., how did your org develop that strategy, how does it position you against the competition, what do you see as the strength and weaknesses of the strategy?? etc. Smart interviewers tend to be more interested in your thinking, than in your expertise--and smart questions are the best way to demonstrate your thinking ability.

Anita said...

You offer a really good strategy -- I agree that hiring managers don't just want drones that answer questions and nod appropriately. They want to feel like they're having a conversation with a thinking human being. Asking questions is a great idea -- thanks for adding.

DMD said...

Yes, these points are very important.

I predict a big market for software tools that will erase a person's web presence to better conform to corporate expectations of deportment, both on AND off the clock.

Personal branding and reputation management are 24/7 activities. Never let your guard own. Remain ever vigilant.

Anita said...

I think you're absolutely right -- we need to be aware of what's going on. I've even had teenagers tell me they're concerned about what other people are writing about them online, because they understand it could damage their chances of getting a job. I have another friend who is struggling to find a job, and he's worried because his name is the same as some guy who was involved in illegal activities years ago.

David Benjamin said...

I'm still amazed at some of the things people say to me during an interview. You can really tell the difference between someone who is polished in the art of interviewing and those that well...treat it like their next bowel movement.

Bottom line, if you need professional help to prepare- get it, this may be your most important sales call you get and you only get one chance. Preparation is the key!

Anita said...

Bowel movement? I gotta remember that one -- hilarious!
But seriously, I sometimes wonder if people think once they get the interview that the job is nearly theirs, and just let down their guard too much. What they need to understand is that just because they passed their first hurdle doesn't mean there isn't a land mine around the next bend.
Thanks for some great observations.

DMD said...

Taking the other side of this issue, I hire software developers on contract basis, and I don't interview.

I give them a small job. If they perform, they get a bigger job. If they develop a good track record, they get ongoing work.

I don't interview. I don't do background investigation. I don't google for how much time they spend on social networking sites. If the code works I pay them.

This is very useful as my contractors are spread from Santa Cruz to Serbia, and place in between.

The world is changing. Mastering The Art of the Interview may be important... it may not be important.

Anita said...

That's an interesting perspective. But I have some questions: Do you have conversations with them before giving them a task? Don't you find out even a little bit about them before giving them a job? And, do you have ongoing questions for them as they do a job -- or don't? Isn't that sort of an interview? I'd be curious to know how this pans out for you in the future. You may have a new book, "The Art of the Non-Interview." Hmmmm.....