Thursday, August 12, 2010

Interview killers and stumbling blocks

During my years as a recruiter and hiring manager, I've found myself on both sides of the interview table.  Here are some of those little things that can kill an interview, even though the candidate might be a highly qualified prospect.  Most are glaringly simple and can be prevented using common sense, others are more elusive and easily corrected with some awareness.

1.  The resume:  Most of the time resume errors are caught and corrected by the recruiting staff prior to being sent to the hiring manager and an interview scheduled.  Candidates often bring a copy of their resume to the interview, just in case the interviewers don't have one in front of them.  If this hand carried resume still contains the spelling and grammatical errors, they will jump out at the hiring manager and negatively influence the rest of the interview.  Be sure to run Spell Check before printing the resume and always have another person critically read your resume for errors before saving it as a final copy.

2.  Late for the interview:  This is a no-brainer and should never happen but unfortunately it is a common experience for interviewers.  Sometimes a late arrival will just be informed they missed the allotted time and if there is any further interest, the company will contact them - basically a nice rejection.  Depending on the company or the interviewer, the interview may still take place but it will automatically have a negative start and the candidate will have to work twice as hard to overcome the initial impression.  A good practice for all candidates is to work on "Lombardi time".  Vince Lombardi was the highly successful football coach and a stickler for details and timeliness.  If a meeting was scheduled for 8 AM, his expectation was for everyone to be in place 15 minutes early.  If a player arrived at 7:55 AM, he was considered late and usually fined.  Planning ahead is critical for a candidate and leaving enough time to find unfamiliar locations and parking must be factored into the arrival time for any interview.  Arrive early (15 minutes is usually perfect), arriving early by 30 minutes or more can be detrimental to the candidate as well.  HR waiting areas are not overly comfortable and a candidate with a long wait time can get too relaxed, slouching in the chairs, talking on their cell phone, etc - all disturbing for the HR receptionist and usually reported to the recruiter or hiring manager.

3.  Cell phones, pagers, texting:  Be sure to turn off your cell phones or other electronic devices prior to meeting with the interviewer.  This is a common courtesy by both the candidate and the interviewer.  I've interviewed some excellent candidates and things were going well right up to the time their cell phone started ringing.  From that point forward, the interviews took a different and negative turn.  What a live cell phone tells the interviewer is that there are more important things going on for this candidate than the interview at hand.  When the personal ring tone is "unusual", that can have a very bad effect on the perception of the interviewer.  If the candidate isn't interested in making the best impression possible, then the interviewer isn't going to be interested in hiring them.

4.  Personal Appearance/Image:  This is a broad category so I'll try to narrow it down to a few specifics that a candidate can focus on and be better prepared for the interviewers expectations.  How a person dresses for the interview and their personal image is a critical first impression item.  The old saying "you only get one chance for a good first impression" is absolutely true in the interviewing business.  A candidate that arrives to interview in a corporate setting should be professionally attired.  This does not necessarily mean a business suit (male/female), but appropriate to the position and department of the company.  I've interviewed excellent candidates for IT positions that choked on the interview because they arrived wearing a suit and necktie.  The candidates were so uncomfortable in the unfamiliar suit that they were constantly tugging at the collar or adjusting the binding jacket - very distracting for the candidate and the interviewer.  A better choice for this candidate would have been a nice dress shirt and slacks, something professional and more inside their comfort zone.  When a candidate isn't fighting with his/her clothing, they can concentrate on appropriate answers to the interview questions. 
     Other dress snafu's are extremely short skirts, revealing tops, oddly colored hair dyes, visible tattoo's and/or piercings, body odor and excessive use of perfume or cologne.  Cleanliness is pure common sense but surprisingly, it isn't uncommon for a candidate to arrive smelling like they just left the gym without a shower.  These interviews don't last long and there is no excuse for this by a candidate.  Wearing revealing, scant or outlandish clothing during the interview is unacceptable.  This behavior can be construed as potentially distracting within a work place, thus having a negative impact on the interview.  Since a candidate won't know anything about the interviewer, it is important to approach the interview as conservatively as possible.  Wear clothing that conceals tattoo's as much as possible.  If the interviewer considers body art as unprofessional, don't kill your interview by showing off your "ink".  Body piercings are another first impression killers.  If piercings are "your thing", that's okay but leave them in the car for the interview.  A pierced tongue is one item I personally can't tolerate as an interviewer.  Lisping due to a tongue stud doesn't come across as professional and will cut an interview short in a hurry.  Lastly for this section, be very conservative with the use of perfumes and colognes.  Most interview rooms are small and usually have closed doors.  A heavy dose of a person's preferred scent can become stifling in that environment.  I've found myself so distracted by my inability to breathe that I've ended interviews abruptly just to get the person out of the room. 

5.  Lying:  Never lie about anything during the interview process.  Most candidates don't pay much attention to what they say during the interview process and sometimes stretch the truth about a previous skill or situation.  The interviewer is usually taking notes and often brings up information provided by an earlier question.  Suddenly, the story changes from the initial question and the interview immediately goes downhill.  Many interviewers have training on how to recognize body language and the eyes can reveal much more than words can convey.  The statement "I can't remember" by a candidate is as big a lie as they can tell.  Most people can remember the smallest detail of insignificant things from years past.  When an interviewer asks why the candidate left the last position after only two months and are told "I don't remember the specifics", the interview will end shortly thereafter.

6.  Arrogance/over-confidence:  I've asked candidates about their experience using a specific software program or piece of equipment (listed in the job requirements of the advertised job) and have been told "No experience with that but it isn't a problem because I learn computer stuff very fast".  The interviewer isn't interested in what you think you can do, it is more important to be up front, professional and humble when needed.  Another area that comes up often is the question concerning "have you managed or supervised other co-workers?" and getting an answer of "no, but don't worry. I know I can handle that easily".  Don't try to impress the interviewer with false bravado, they won't believe you and you'll be quickly heading for a reject status.

7.  Inappropriate questions:  I've had interviews that flowed along nicely until the end and I asked "what questions do you have for us?".  The candidate jumps right in and asks "how soon before I can take vacation days?" or "is it okay to bring my kid to work when I can't find a sitter?".  Unfortunately, a good interview reverses direction in a hurry  and the candidate receives a reject letter in a few days.  If you don't have the job, don't ask questions that assume you do.

These examples certainly don't cover all the interview killers but show a good sampling of the more common problems encountered by interviewers.  A good candidate will be aware of these items and act proactively to ensure they don't get caught in these "killer" snares.

Good luck in your next interview!

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