Job Candidates: Don’t Do These Things in the Interview

87566052CareerBuilder offers some reasonable guidance regarding what may make interviewers put off by some candidates. Read the full post, but it also offers some bizarre things candidates have reportedly done. I personally like: “Applicant acted out a Star Trek role.”

Candidate: “Damn it, Jim! I’m a doctor, not an accountant.”
Interviewer: “Ok, well we’re discussing a CPA position, soooooo…”

Anyway, here’s the strange list:

When asked to share the most outrageous mistakes candidates made during a job interview, employers gave the following real-life examples:

  • Applicant warned the interviewer that she “took too much valium” and didn’t think her interview was indicative of her personality
  • Applicant acted out a Star Trek role
  • Applicant answered a phone call for an interview with a competitor
  • Applicant arrived in a jogging suit because he was going running after the interview
  • Applicant asked for a hug
  • Applicant attempted to secretly record the interview
  • Applicant brought personal photo albums
  • Applicant called himself his own personal hero
  • Applicant checked Facebook during the interview
  • Applicant crashed her car into the building
  • Applicant popped out his teeth when discussing dental benefits
  • Applicant kept her iPod headphones on during the interview
  • Applicant set fire to the interviewer’s newspaper while reading it when the interviewer said “Impress me”
  • Applicant said that he questioned his daughter’s paternity
  • Applicant wanted to know the name and phone number of the receptionist because he really liked her

In the end, know that hiring managers are looking for a new team member and want to find somebody that’s a good fit, and aren’t rooting for you to fail. “Employers want to see confidence and genuine interest in the position. The interview is not only an opportunity to showcase your skills, but also to demonstrate that you’re the type of person people will want to work with,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “Going over common interview questions, researching the company, and practicing with a friend or family member can help you feel more prepared, give you a boost in confidence, and help calm your nerves.”

‘Suit Up’ for IT Job Interviews

Sometimes it’s best not to imitate what you see on TV and the Internet (great advice, I know), especially when it comes to fashion choices for the workplace.

Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is well-known for promoting his social media juggernaut while sporting hoodies or dark grey t-shirts. And those young technology creators in the new Samsung commercials are dressed down in jeans and t-shirts while discussing their “Unicorn Apocalypse” phone application.

While Facebook has been wildly successful and those creative geniuses look like they are having a blast deciding whether or not the unicorn zombies should have glitter in their manes (I couldn’t even make this stuff up if I wanted to) – it’s best not to expect a relaxed atmosphere when interviewing for IT jobs.

In fact, a recent survey from Robert Half Technology says IT professionals seeking a new job in Indianapolis should interview in a suit if they expect to be taken seriously. Almost half of Indianapolis chief information officers (49%, over the national average of 46%) cited a formal business suit as the appropriate interview attire.

If you don’t have a suit, khakis and a collared shirt were preferred with 34% of respondents; tailored separates were then preferred by 14% of the CIOs interviewed nationally. Only 4% of CIOs expected anyone to show up wearing jeans and a polo shirt.

Of course, the point is to let your skills and experience shine – so don’t overdo or try to be ironic by showing up in a tuxedo with tails or ball gown, either.

How to Respond if Media Asks You Something Outside Your Comfort Zone

Good advice here from PR Daily about how to respond to a tough question about your business or organization:

Recently, I received an email from Nicole, a reader who works for a local Chamber of Commerce. Her boss was on the radio expecting to face questions about one topic—but the host had a different idea. She writes:

“We had a recent experience where our Chamber president was asked to participate in a live radio interview about our economic development program. Instead, he was asked numerous questions about a proposed rate hike by our city-owned utility—an issue which we are not the appropriate spokesperson for. Ultimately, our president did a good job not speaking on behalf of the utility and there was no fallout, but it was an uncomfortable situation that was particularly difficult since it was happening live. I was just curious as to how you would handle that type of situation?”

It sounds like Nicole’s president handled it perfectly. But to elaborate on her question a bit more, spokespersons generally have three options when a reporter asks a question that falls outside of their realm of expertise.

Option No. 1: Answer the question

The most straightforward option is to answer the question, even if it’s outside of the spokesperson’s expertise. This approach is fraught with danger, since the spokesperson is now on the record speaking on behalf of a different agency.

Even if the spokesperson handles the question well, what good will it do if the headline of the interview becomes about that other topic? It means that your main messages—the things you most wanted the public to know about you—got lost in the shuffle.

Option No. 2: Answer the question, but within your own context

Occasionally, you might choose to answer questions about unrelated topics, but only within the specific context of how that topic affects you or your work. This approach allows you to “stay in your lane” while offering the audience (and reporter) something of value.

For example, the Chamber president might have said:

“I can’t comment on the rate increase broadly, but let me tell you what our members have said. They’ve said that increases in energy costs will lead to either laying people off or freezing hiring. We all understand that energy prices have to go up on occasion, but local businesses have told me they believe this is a bad time to do it.”

This option isn’t fraught with as much danger as the first one, and it may occasionally be the right approach. But it also increases your odds that the quote the audience remembers from your interview will be about a utility increase—which may or may not be the headline you wanted.

Option No. 3: Deflect and refuse the question

This one is pretty straightforward. You can just tell the reporter:

“You know, that’s really a question that’s more appropriate for the utility company to answer. I haven’t had the opportunity to study their full proposal yet, and would be uncomfortable commenting on the rate increase. What I can discuss today is rising costs for local businesses in general, and how it’s affecting their hiring practices. Those rising costs may include energy prices, but they also include tax increases, increasing fuel costs, and many other items businesses need to purchase to succeed…”

This option is often the safest, but the audience may hold your president’s refusal to answer basic questions against him. Ultimately, options two or three are the best bets, depending on the question and its relevance to the Chamber’s work.

Don’t Let Perception Make You Seem Insincere

Now as much as ever, it’s critical for all American businesses to convey one characteristic — integrity. If people don’t believe your communicators when they speak, your days as a profitable business are numbered. Michael Sebastian of Ragan.com offers a few key phrases to avoid when speaking with reporters or the public, lest you seem like you’re hiding something:

Ever prefaced a statement with, “To be perfectly honest, I …”?

Look out. That’s a verbal crutch—sometimes called a throat-clearing statement—and when speaking to the media it could hurt a spokesperson’s credibility.

Barbara Gibson, a social media trainer and former chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), discovered this phenomenon while assessing the strengths and weaknesses of corporate spokespeople.

To perform the analysis, a journalist interviewed individual spokespeople for 40 minutes, then the journalist and a PR assessor rated their abilities across 12 key skills. Among the areas she examined was whether journalists considered the spokesperson “open and honest.”

“We found there is a very big difference between being open and honest and seeming so,” Gibson explained in an email to PR Daily.

She began by analyzing various aspects of spokespeople’s performances to learn why journalists think they’re not truthful when they are, in fact, telling the truth.

“I found that the higher the number of uses of verbal crutches within an interview, the lower the score in this area,” she said. “Then I also realized that those spokespeople [who use] what I identified as ‘honesty-related’ verbal crutches … almost always had lower scores.”

Four of these “honesty-related” crutches are:

1. “Let’s be clear”;
2. “To be perfectly honest”;
3. “Frankly”;
4. “Just between you and me.”

Interview Stories (a Farce)

In the course of interviewing job applicants, have you ever received a bizarre answer to one of your probing questions? Well, you’re not alone. Aol.com brings us 37 examples of the most awe-inspiring interview performances you’ll find. Here are just a few samples:

20. "I had a candidate come into my office with her child and proceed to breastfeed her baby boy during the interview. There was no acknowledgment or mention from the woman I was interviewing about the baby or him eating." — Miller-Merrell

21. "While interviewing a young lady who was wearing a revealing top, at the end of the interview, she leaned forward and said in a sultry voice, ‘I’ll do anything to get this job.’ She got people’s attention, but eliminated herself from getting hired." — Ronald Kaufman, consultant and author of "Anatomy of Success"

34. "When I interview candidates, I always ask the following questions in this order: What are you most proud of? What do you enjoy doing? Why did you leave your previous jobs? Here are the answers I received from one candidate: ‘I am most proud of my wife and children.’ ‘The thing I enjoy most is spending time with my family.’ ‘I decided to quit. I had an affair with a co-worker and when we broke up there was too much tension in the office.’ And he said it without batting an eye." — Bruce, executive recruiter and career counselor, Hurwitz Strategic Staffing Ltd.

35. "One time during an interview, a candidate removed his flip-flops and literally stuck his foot in my face. Another time, I was interviewing a candidate who asked me out on a date three times in five minutes. I had to remind him that he was on an interview — not speed dating." — Heather Araneo, branch manager, Snelling Staffing – The Wyckoff Group

Beware of Resume Fabrications in Tough Times

Communications firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas out of Chicago released an article warning employers to be wary of resume fudgers, especially with so many applicants these days. Here is an excerpt for your company to heed:

As millions of Americans struggle with long-term unemployment, the temptation to stretch the truth on one’s resume to gain a competitive advantage is becoming harder to resist. Some desperate job seekers are going so far as to establish fake references. However, the payoff may not be worth the risk, according to one employment authority.

“There is very little proof that any form of resume boosting directly results in a job interview, much less a job offer. In contrast, there are scores of examples of individuals who have been eliminated from candidacy or fired after a fraudulent resume was uncovered,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., the global outplacement consultancy which provides job-search training and counseling to individuals who have been laid off…

They also added this list:

Top Resume, Interview Fabrications

Education: Listing degree from a school never attended; inflating grade point average and graduate honors; citing degree from online, non-accredited "education" institution.

Job title: Making up a title or boosting actual title by one or more levels in hopes of obtaining better salary offers.

Compensation: Inflating current or previous salary and benefits to secure more money from prospective employer.

Reason for leaving: Saying it was a mass downsizing when the discharge was based on performance; asked to leave, but saying you quit; underplaying or completely hiding poor relationships with superiors.

Accomplishments: Overstating one’s contributions to a team project or company performance; claiming to have received special recognition; exaggerating level of participation in an important aspect of the business.

Exit Interviews Still a Necessary Part of the Process

Cindi Kiner, president of the Greenfield-based The HR Connection, LLC, recently penned a column for BizVoice magazine on the importance of exit interviews. Heeding this advice could be quite beneficial for your business:

Employers often assume that they know the reason an employee is leaving the company. They may assume an employee is leaving for a better opportunity, when the real reason is that the employee never felt like part of the team. Employers generally think employees leave because of salary or benefits, but more often the reasons involve interpersonal relationships. The answers provided about an employee’s experience with the company can be very surprising and revealing, and can provide an excellent opportunity for an organization to make needed changes.

Exit interviews serve a dual purpose. The more obvious purpose is to learn where the company can improve its working conditions and performance. Departing employees can often provide a unique perspective on this since they don’t have to fear immediate repercussions. It is very important to assure an employee that the information he provides will be confidential (within limits) and will not affect his paycheck, references or his eligibility for COBRA or unemployment. The less obvious purpose of an exit interview is to protect the company from costly litigation in the future by a disgruntled employee. Any remarks that indicate discrimination, illegal activity or harassment must be documented and investigated, and proper action must be taken immediately.

Also, if you’re looking for further advice on exit interviews or any other part of the interviewing process, the Chamber’s second edition of The Interviewing Guide (authored by attorneys from Ogletree Deakins) was just released in downloadable PDF form.